The Future of Journalism & Washington’s War on Advertising

by on June 15, 2010 · 6 comments

So, I’m sitting here at today’s Federal Trade Commission (FTC) workshop, “Will Journalism Survive the Internet Age?” and several panelists have argued that private “professional” media is toast, not just because of the rise of the Net and digital media, but also because the inherent cross-subsidy that advertising has traditionally provided is drying up.  It very well could be the case that both statements are true and that private media operators are in some trouble because of it. But what nobody seems to be acknowledging is that our government is currently on the regulatory warpath against advertising and that this could have profound impact on the outcome of this debate.

As Berin Szoka and I noted in a recent paper, “The Hidden Benefactor: How Advertising Informs, Educates & Benefits Consumers,” the FTC, the FCC, the FDA, and Congress are all considering, or already imposing, a host of new rules that will seriously affect advertising markets.  This article in AdAge today confirms this:

The advertising industry is heading for a “tsunami” of regulation and is at a “tipping point” of greatly increased scrutiny, warned a panel on social media and privacy at the American Advertising Federation conference here [in Orlando].

The reason this is so important for the ongoing debate about the future of media and journalism is because, as Berin and I argued in our paper:

an attack on advertising is tantamount to an attack on media itself, and media is at a critical point of technological change. As we have pointed out repeatedly, the vast majority of media and content in this country is supported by commercial advertising in one way or another–particularly in the era of “free” content and service.

So, before policymakers give up on the commercial media that have been supported by advertising in America for generations (or centuries!), they might want to pause for just a moment as they skip down the Yellow Brick Road to a “post-corporate,” taxpayer-supported media Oz to ask just how much damage increased regulation is doing to advertising revenues for private media companies and the journalists and editors they employ.  Anyone who believes the Wizard behind the curtain (politicians and unelected bureaucrats) won’t call the shots in that Oz fantasyland is just kidding themselves. So perhaps if policymakers stopped strangling advertising, it could continue to fund reporting, creativity and innovation.

  • Lajarvik

    Plus, advertising has often advanced stories editors wouldn't cover in the news pages–for example years ago attacks on too much fat in fast-food appeared first in full-page ads; anti-Vietnam war organizing depended on full-page ads; anti-smoking ads from ASH drove the anti-smoking movement; more recently campaigns were carried on in newspapers. If you really want dissident views suppressed, imagine a world without ads for Greenpeace or PETA…

  • Martha

    I also think that this is a threat to our human rights and free journalism. What the hell they are thinking anyway? We should not tolerate this.

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  • Mary Robenson

    Its not really fair. yes sometimes press does some excess things too like yellow journalism. But when you threat the press pr free journalism then i must say something is wrong down there.

  • Mary Robenson

    Its not really fair. yes sometimes press does some excess things too like yellow journalism. But when you threat the press pr free journalism then i must say something is wrong down there.

  • Bill

    I can certainly understand the concerns expressed in your post and in the comments to that post. I do wonder, however, how much useful and creative journalism has been limited or destroyed by the need to make money rather than the more essential aim of keeping the public informed. The reason freedom of the press is considered so essential in our founding documents is because an informed public is a vital social need, not a business concern. But you are certainly right, finding a way to balance the actual purpose of journalism with the economic realities which make it possible is complex and any easy path to utopia is certain to be illusory. There are some great interviews with top journalists about how new technologies may influence that future of journalism at… which some of you might find interesting or useful.

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