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.