Bad journalism didn’t kill newspapers – and it wasn’t the internet either…

Newspaper advertising revenue chart

Newspaper advertising revenue isn’t what it was – but who is to blame? Not journalism in my opinion


Even today, when we see tales of woe around traditional journalism, and in particular newspapers, you see the journalists being blamed for writing crap stories or not bringing in enough scoops or editors being too timid and to be honest, it’s gotten a little tedious.

You want to look to where newspapers started to die (not that many of them aren’t still profitable, just less profitable than before), go blame the advertising departments.

The arrogance of advertising

This is something that I’ve been thinking about for years┬ábut it wasn’t until recently working with the talented Alex Macleod. Now Alex and I disagreed on a fair few things but this was a guy who had done wonders transforming radio advertising and making it very profitable in an era when radio is said to be going the way of print.

His main secret (apart from often hiring good people)? Thinking outside the box. Rarely do you see advertising teams operating under Agile methodologies but Alex did that and did it with a dose of creativity, adapting to where the potential was, not just running back to the same well over and over, until it was dry.

So few in media advertising seem to operate that way. I recall a Scottish publication that I wanted to send significant cash to in return for digital sponsorship opportunities. All they could offer was digital banners – and terrible metrics to back it up. Equally, the concept of aligning the advertising to direct trackable business goals seemed like an alien concept.

Why did the ad teams fail journalism?

It didn’t need to be like this. Ad teams could have taken more chances, more punts. They could have spent a bit of cash on new ways of trying things, but they didn’t – and mostly still don’t – because they were arrogant.

Over the years if there’s one thing many media advertising bosses (and owners to be fair) have excelled at it has been arrogance in their own product and sector. Combined with a bit of blinkered vision (many bosses dismissed the internet because they didn’t actually see or use it) this lead to multiple missed opportunities – and sadly these missed opportunities continue to this day.

But don’t blame the journalists. Quite often they were – and still are – doing the best they can.