Nolte: Advertising Karma Hits Corporate Media and the New York Times Calls for Bailout

A Pakistani journalist reads a local edition of the International New York Times in Islama
AAMIR QURESHI/AFP via Getty Images

Due to the coronavirus and a healthy dose of karma, newspaper advertising is drying up, and these same newspapers are now laying staffers off and slashing salaries while the far-left New York Times’ media columnist screams for a bailout.

Before I get to the karma part, here are the details…

On Monday, we learned the Tampa Bay Times is suspending its print publication from seven to two days a week. That’s not a typo. A newspaper that had been printing every day of the week will now print only on Wednesday and Sunday.

This, however, is not due to a lack of clicks.

“The company reported a surge in traffic to its website … and growth in digital subscriptions over the last few weeks” but “the pandemic sent advertising sales into a plunge. In just the last two weeks, [advertising] cancellations have cost us more than $1 million, and there is no sign of quick recovery on the horizon. We must act now.”


Gannett, one of the largest newspaper companies in the country, publisher of, among others, USA Today, the Des Moines Register, and Arizona Republic, announced a sweeping round of furloughs. A memo from Gannett CEO Paul Bascobert asked employees to immediately make a “collective sacrifice … as soon as this week.”

“Our plan is to minimize long-term damage to the business by implementing a combination of furloughs and pay reductions,” the memo explains.

Poynter points out that this is in direct response to “big advertising declines.”

Finally, Chicago’s Daily Herald is slashing newsroom salaries by 15 percent and salaries at its parent company by 20 percent.

And with this news, all released on Monday (the floundering BuzzFeed cut salaries by up to 25 percent last week), the far-left New York Times published a panicked and ludicrous bailout proposal…

“The coronavirus is likely to hasten the end of advertising-driven media. … And government should not rescue it,” the Times columnist says, which is fair enough: The thought of my tax dollars funding people who hate me is a bit much.

What the Times wants, though, is sugar daddies to save journalism. Get this…

The time is now to make a painful but necessary shift: Abandon most for-profit local newspapers, whose business model no longer works, and move as fast as possible to a national network of nimble new online newsrooms. That way, we can rescue the only thing worth saving about America’s gutted, largely mismanaged local newspaper companies — the journalists.

The right decision is to consistently look to the future, which comes in a few forms. The most promising right now is Ms. Green’s dream of a big new network of nonprofit news organizations across the country on the model of The Texas Tribune, which Mr. Thornton co-founded.

Government support, as Report for America’s co-founder, Steven Waldman, suggests, could tip toward the new nonprofit organizations and small businesses. Facebook and Google could focus on backing them, rather than paying them to make YouTube videos.

Can you imagine what “journalism” would look like if it had no market pressure whatsoever? If you believe, as I do, that the media is as irresponsible, dishonest, destructive, and dangerous as it can possibly get — we’re both wrong. If you remove all market incentive and pressure, if these outlets in no way have to attract and retain customers in order to stay in business, if earning the respect and trust of news consumers is no longer a concern, we haven’t seen anything yet in the arena of an irresponsible, dishonest, destructive, and dangerous media.

Look at how much the Washington Post has collapsed into a smoldering pile of fake news upon the arrival of its sugar daddy, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.

Look at the destruction far-left CNN has wrought, not only to its own shattered ratings and reputation, but in places like Baltimore and Ferguson, because it’s paid through a rigged cable TV system as opposed to having to court viewers.

Now imagine this cancer of no accountability spreading everywhere at the local level.

But I digress.

Now we come to the karma part…

News consumption is up. Clicks are up. Subscriptions are up. But these media companies are still dying.

Why? Is it that as the economy shuts down, fewer companies are advertising, even though there’s more traffic?

Well, that’s certainly part of it, but here — and this is important — is where the true ravaging of those newspaper advertising rates is coming from:

In February, “coronavirus” became the second-most common word on block lists for news publishers, up from eighth-most common in January, according to Integral Ad Science data (The number one most-common was — you guessed it — “Trump”). Across the open web, Coronavirus was the third-most common block list entry in February, after not even ranking in the top ten in January, IAS data showed….

The pace of the blocking looks to be accelerating, too, as more advertisers add the word to their lists and the volume of content about the outbreak grows…

Advertisers have always wanted to avoid coverage of the most upsetting topics, and many prefer to avoid the news altogether. Joe Barone, the managing partner of brand safety at GroupM, noted that less than one third of GroupM’s clients are blocking coronavirus terms, and those that aren’t either don’t advertise against news at all or don’t do a lot of keyword blocking in general.

Let me boil this down for you…

Most advertisers purchase online advertising programmatically, through ad networks. With programmatic advertising, advertisers basically buy people, not publishers. They identify a person by, for example, past search history or they buy information, and then market directly to that specific person — whether that person is on their favorite sports site, news site, YouTube, wherever that person likes to visit… The ads follow the person. Notable exceptions are porn sites.

Once upon a time, programmatic advertisers did not care where on the Internet they reached their target persons — if those persons liked Fox News or Breitbart News, Fox News or Breitbart News would get paid. If those persons liked CNN or the New York Times, CNN and the New York Times would get paid. That’s how it was, until…

Trump was elected, and the left-wing blacklisters came along.

And therein lies the karma.

Blacklisters like Media Matters and Sleeping Giants have mercilessly harassed advertisers advertising on right-of-center sites including Breitbart News, and have tried to get advertisers to block programmatic ads to conservative news websites in order to defund those websites — to put them out of business.

So, for example, using social media, boycotters send to ABC Company a screenshot of its advertising next to a Breitbart story that offends the left and asks something like, “Do you support this HATE!?!?!” (A lie to begin with). In their McCarthyite zeal to destroy Breitbart and other conservative publishers, the boycotters then harassed ABC company until it pulled its advertising.

And in so doing, the blacklisting left made a move antithetical to the central concept of programmatic advertising: they made the advertisers make conscious choices about where their ads would appear. And here’s the rub…

Turns out — as you read in the story excerpted above — advertisers not only care which news publishers their programmatic ads appear on, they began to care about which specific content their ads appeared against. Plane crash story? We don’t want to sell cars next to that story! COVID-19? We don’t want to sell cars against those stories! As is so often the case, the blacklisters created a monster that they can no longer control — a monster now running amok destroying establishment media outlets, too.

This changed the entire dynamic of advertising.

Terrified advertisers now, when placing ad buys, add words to a block list so that their product will not appear next to certain content. And now, as you read above, one of the most popular words on the block list is “coronavirus,” and what subject is every news outlet in America covering right now? The coronavirus. The very subject skittish advertisers want nothing to do with for fear a Sleeping Giants or a Media Matters or another member of the left-wing Appropriate Police will launch a hate jihad against them: How dare you profit from death!

Here’s the short version: While Sleeping Giants and Media Matters were relentlessly pushing to blacklist Breitbart out of business, they ended up altering the way advertisers place their ads, and now that alteration is threatening to annihilate the mainstream news media whose ideas the blacklisters DO approve of.

And now we come to the moral of the story…

All these establishment media outlets now suffering due to these hyper-sensitive advertisers said nothing when Sleeping Giants and Media Matters attacked conservative publishers like us. They said nothing in our defense. They said nothing about how these blacklisting campaigns are un-American and immoral. They said nothing about the principle of freedom of speech and thought. And now that silence is devastating their own newsrooms.

Worse still, some of these outlets, like far-left CNN, even joined the blacklisting campaign.

In fact, the same New York Times that’s currently freaking out over the collapse of these media outlets is the same New York Times that shamefully published a how-to guide to “destroy” Breitbart News, and did so by explicitly praising the tactics employed by Sleeping Giants.

Like I said… Karma.


Follow John Nolte on Twitter @NolteNC. Follow his Facebook Page here.


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