Confessions of a national newspaper exec: ‘Publishers haven’t got their shit together’

Lamenting the dominant share Facebook and Google have in the digital advertising market has become a common motif in media owner circles. But some feel publishers need to get better at standing their ground.

In this latest installment of our Confessions series, in which we grant anonymity in exchange for candor, we spoke to a publishing executive at a national newspaper, who is frustrated at how slow publishers continue to be when responding to the biggest threats in digital media.

What’s your biggest concern?
Publishers must stop giving away their best assets — their journalism and direct monetization — for scale. Does Facebook value quality journalism? I see scant evidence that it does. Whether that’s all the issues around fake news and the inability to police it, or whether it’s making the offer to publishers: “Give me all your journalism for nothing, and we’ll collect all the audience data, and keep it within a walled garden.” On what level does that seem a good idea? The promise is that you get 100 percent of the pennies that you create from the advertising revenue. If that looks like an attractive proposition, then you’re in a pretty poor state.

So is it a pipe dream to think there’s meaningful revenue from publishing to platforms?
The key word is meaningful. We’re long past the point of thinking advertising alone pays for the cost of quality journalism. You’re grabbing for pennies. I’m sick of ad tech vendors knocking at my door, promising to give me 10-30 percent increase in yields. For starters, they can’t, but even if they could, it wouldn’t make any difference, because you’re talking pennies. And Facebook is ad tech. You’re encouraging consumption of journalism on a platform other than your own. And for what end? A few pennies. It’s the most ridiculous deal that anyone could strike. And it’s because publishers are so desperate that it seems in any way attractive.

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