Earlier this month, I tweeted this Robert Picard blog post about how "The Biggest Mistake of Journalism Professionalism" is how journalists “spent nearly a century denying responsibility and involvement in business decisions”.
Bill Doskoch, (@billdinto), a much-respected Twitter friend, pushed back. “What bearing does that have on the avg reporter’s job?”
This thinking has been pervasive in the newspaper industry for a very long time. There is a belief that journalists should be free of knowledge of the business side so that they can carry out their reporting with integrity and objectivity free of pressure from the advertising department to report favourably about their customers. Journalists should be above it.
I get it.
But the more I think about it, the more I realize how damaging this thinking has been to the newspaper industry.
It infantilizes the newsroom. “Don’t talk to the kids about money – it might upset them or worse, corrupt them”. And, it creates a state of willful ignorance, the last thing you’d want reporters to be. Surely a mature, intelligent group of people can understand that we must report with integrity and that we work in a business that must make money.
The result of this siloed newsroom is that a large chunk of the organization has no real understanding of how the business works.
And it’s a problem.
Innovation in large organizations often comes from the bottom up. That’s why Google allows company time for personal projects and has “office hours” where any employee can approach management with proposals.
A lack of business understanding leads to poor product development efforts. Editorial recommends (or worse produces) sections and features that advertising can’t sell. I must have seen 10 different gardening magazine proposals in my time. (Hint: we live in Canada, we have 4 months of warm weather/year) And then there was that fishing magazine proposal….
But far worse, it’s resulted in the failure of newsrooms to create a sense of urgency when the web emerged. Had the newsroom really understood what it meant when the very profitable classifieds started going away, or how new capabilities in customer analytics was creating a focus on advertising return on investment and changing how advertisers were planning their budgets, there may have been earlier moves to understand the online world and to succeed in it.
But let’s not let the advertising department off the hook!
The Big Advertising Department Myth: We sell eyeballs
Eyeballs are about mass and placement in the form reader demographics, circulation numbers, lines, columns, colour and position requests.
What advertising departments actually sell is connection and context that lead to sales results.
Had they been thinking about their product as a connection between buyers and sellers, they would have seen the devastation that online classifieds would bring a lot earlier and taken steps to win in that space.
They would have also seen that in the online world, their audiences are relatively small and flighty and that in that world, they are not nearly as good at providing those connections as they were in print.
Had advertising departments been thinking about context, they would have known that it creates greater user engagement and advertising click through rates. They would have seen the explosion of online content due to blogs and niche sites that focus on narrower and narrower content areas and realized that they would need to create more of their own verticals.
Had they been thinking about connection and context, they too would have seen that the instant accountability and return on investment provided by search advertising makes it the ultimate solution. Advertisers can now target ads directly to people who are actively searching for their products and services. They would have seen that this would change the advertising game forever. Maybe they would have realized that it isn’t all about banners and big boxes and that most traditional print advertising sales reps aren’t qualified to sell online advertising in such a complex environment.
These myths caused newspapers to sit back and do nothing while their world was changing.Perhaps the biggest myth of all is commonly heard in newsrooms and advertising departments alike: That the newspaper has to survive. It just has to.