January 21, 2016

Major daily newspapers — run by snide, arrogant elitists

David Chavern, the CEO of the Newspaper Association of America, the trade and lobbying organization for the major dailies (it does represent some others, but the National Newspaper Association is the primary group for "community" newspapers) wrote a howler op-ed piece last week for Digiday, an online magazine that covers issues in digital advertising and publishing.

The header should tell you just how snide, arrogant and elitist this is:
Ad blocking threatens democracy.
First, democracy was around before modern newspapers were, whether in its classical Athenian version, the Roman Republic, or the first modern gropings toward it of American founding fathers, the British realms, or the Swiss Confederation.

If one wants to claim that Athens and Rome with slaves weren't truly democratic, neither was America before 1865, and American newspapers, primarily but not only in the South, supported that slavery.

So, we should add both "historically inaccurate" and "histrionic" to the debunking of this nonsense.

That said, here’s Chavern’s nut graf, as far as I can tell:
People who download ad-blocking software may be looking for a faster browsing experience in the short-term, but they are also knowingly or unknowingly participating in the longer-term destruction of our ad-supported system for free and low-cost news and other content. As ad-blockers proliferate, the inevitable result will be either much higher subscription rates or a deterioration in the quality and availability of thoughtful, reliable news as news media and content creators are forced out of business. This, in turn, will put us on a dangerous path toward information inequality. News content will be reserved for those who can pay high subscription fees, and everyone else will be left without access to valuable information — with disastrous implications for our democracy.

But wait, it gets better!

Like this:

Are we really willing to exchange exposure to digital ads for significantly higher prices for everyone, where reliable information is only available to the elite? 
Wowza.

So, newspapers that use paywalls as part of their digital stream, not just the elitist Wall Street Journal and semi-elite New York Times, but the Gannett chain, are actually read only by elites? European papers, who long relied more on higher circulation prices and less in ads in print editions, are read only by elites?

Arrogant and elitist is what this piece is.

First, Mr. Chavern, as you either DO know or else SHOULD know, most newspapers were slow to jump on paywalls in the first place because Deano Singleton and other AP board members drank the "TV model" Kool-Aid, ignoring that pay cable channels like HBO existed already in the 1970s.

Second, "elitist"? From big metro dailies that run BOTH real estate ads AND puff pieces for McMansions, or BOTH auto ads AND puff review pieces for Beemers, Lexuses, etc. THAT's elitist.

Even more elitist is the "style" columnists and shutterbugs showing up at black-tie events for the locally rich and famous, and the name-dropping that goes with that.

Third? Newspapers who may have written about growing income inequality without tackling the causes of it, and without really wanting to do that too much (I'll plead a small mea culpa myself, at least on being afraid to rock corporate boats on op-ed pages) are elitist.

Fourth? On the technical side? Besides craptacular web ads? Let's not even get into the abuse of tracking cookies. Some websites, sometimes newspapers, sometimes others, Ghostery shows me it's blocking 30 cookies.

But let us please get into what Chavern calls "native advertising" and I still call good old "advertorial."

Chavern says:
Part of (improving digital ad experience) may also involve better “native ads” that are more fully integrated into the overall experience of visiting a news site. 
First, the Federal Trade Commission has already ixnayed that, publishing guidelines that it wants advertorial less "integrated," not more. So, we have an industry trade group CEO who's either making up shit and hoping people don't pay attention, or else one who's not paying attention himself. (Speaking of, I use the browser extension called Ad Detector, folks. It can't block advertorial, and it's not perfect at what it catches, but what it does catch, it flags with a bright red bar.)

He then points to TV native ads. Well, IMO, a lot of his comparison is apples to oranges, and the apples to apples part needs ....

More FTC regulation.

That leads me to Steve Brill, who writes the perfect antidote to Chavern and his member newspapers.

That's because, in part, he said that at American Lawyer, he resisted urges to put lipstick on the advertorial pig to make it look more editorial.

But, that's down low on the piece.

The starter is calling out papers for their timidity and cluelessness on paywalls, saying stuff I totally agree with about use of the paywall, where to set the "meter" and much more.

It gets better from there. He says many newspaper publishers inherited their businesses, sometimes through multiple generations, and were and are clueless about running them well as businesses because of that.

(And, although the publisher of THE Dallas Morning News is not a Belo family member, nonetheless, Monroney is arguably a snide, arrogant elitist, as it continues to slouch toward Gomorrah.)

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