Echo Chambers Are Death Knell Of Democracy. Advertising Is The Antidote

  • by , Featured Contributor, August 13, 2020

A well-informed electorate has always been understood to be a critical element of a successful democracy. Thus, the notion of a free press anchored the Bill of Rights, the first amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

Most of our analog news media have stumbled badly over the past 20 years in their individual quests to build robust digital businesses that can provide more and better quality news to more readers and viewers faster, with more accuracy, than they could on paper or over the airwaves.

Instead, their business models were built around monetizing the scarce distribution and plentiful attention that came with analog media with premium-priced advertising. These media companies have not yet found their way in the digital world of plentiful distribution and scarce attention, where ad models operate more in the way of direct marketing.

Without strong audience or advertising support for broad news, news media companies today have chased business wherever it can be found. For many, the choice is to focus on niche news, heavy doses of opinion, paid content and paid subscriptions.



Unfortunately, these strategies have resulted in a news media soup far from satisfying for any of its key constituencies -- consumers, publishers or advertisers -- that has been downright dangerous for democracy.

Niche news coverage creates niche audiences who only come to news outlets for one thing -- maybe only super-local content, for example.

Gone is the opportunity of serendipity: for readers  and viewers to be informed about topics that they didn’t know they were interested in until they learned about them. How many Americans in the 1960s learned about the civil rights movement from newspapers, news magazines or TV broadcast news covering cities far away from their own tranquil towns?

Making opinion the main dish of news products rather than the dessert makes it hard for its consumers to distinguish between the two.  

Remember as a kid being told “If you don’t eat your peas, there is no ice cream for you tonight”? Ice cream-only meals will kill you in the end.

We actually have cable news networks today defending defamation suits with the admission that some of their pundits are such well-known liars, they shouldn’t be held to a standard of truth.

Today’s advertorial “is not your father’s Oldsmobile.” The blending of the lines between independently reported news and paid content has made what is paid and what is not so hard to distinguish today. Sure, content about travel, cars or beauty products isn’t the same as hard news, but once a news brand is seen by its consumers as not just promiscuous, but for sale, it’s hard to be above reproach in all areas, particularly the stuff that matters the most.

I am so happy to see great publications like The New York Times and The Atlantic find success selling premium subscriptions to their core products. But the higher they raise the paywall, the fewer are the consumers that can climb across it.

Great journalism shapes, informs, alters and inspires its readers and viewers. It moves electorates. It quickens the heartbeat of nations.

Analog news media had its challenges, but it was very widely distributed and read and watched. Today’s premium journalism is not.

Yes, the individual publishers that are successful reach more people than they used to. But far fewer people today have access to as much broad-based quality journalism as they used to.

And so much of what is put out there today is targeted to, by, or “liked” by people who think just as you do. Thus it's no surprise our news world today is so dominated by echo chambers: niche content to the same communities of interest; opinions from like-minded people; paid pitches designed to look like news; and walls around the best journalism, particularly focused on the interests of those with the most money to pay.

Echo chambers are not good for democracy. They make it hard for people to learn or care about things they don't already know or believe. Instead, they self-reinforce. Echo chambers have a sclerotic effect on democracy.

I don’t profess to know the whole answer, but I do believe the antidote is in the world of advertising -- in building new, digitally leveraged advertising that can support broad-based news and journalism.

We need to find ways that the best, most broadly appealing, accurate and trustworthy news can be distributed at no cost to everyone. We need advertisers to care again about the media they support.

We need to focus advertisers on the value they get, not just the CPM cost they pay. We need to expose and eliminate all the nasty elements that this black-box digital age has foisted on us and used to steal ad dollars from quality news: fraud, undisclosed rebates, faux measurement and attribution precision, and too many bad actors the don’t care about the damage they do.

What do you think?

8 comments about "Echo Chambers Are Death Knell Of Democracy. Advertising Is The Antidote".
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  1. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, August 14, 2020 at 9:12 a.m.

    You won't find out what people think on MP. 

    First, the word free, as in no cost, doesn't exist. NOthing is free. Freedom is not free. This also means tackling the meaning of "free speech" and "individual freedoms". You will have to wrestle an alligator by the tail in a legal sense. From the get go, that concept of "free" needs to be changed by people like you with audience, respect, experience. 

    Next, is the tackle with tech, big tech and small tech. Who leads ? Afterall, there is no leadership, just an occasional branch. Who pays for leadership and movement ?

  2. Tony Jarvis from Olympic Media Consultancy, August 14, 2020 at 10:57 a.m.

    Well said Paula.  Dave: You and the world of advertising could start with the most toxic, most dangerous echo chamber of all, Facebook.  It is surely the very antithesis to accuracy, trust worthiness and quality reporting.  And, Facebook IS a publisher whatever other banners this chameleon hides under. 
    Advertisers that have boycotted the platform need to eliminate it from consideration for any digital media plan for the foreseeable future, like Unilever, not just for a month or two.  Why any brand would want to be anywhere close to such a poisonous environment is beyond puzzling.  Based on my time at Grey/Mediacom "the company you keep", i.e., context and environment of each media vehicle, were always included in an array key qualitiative considerations beyond the target audience numbers and efficiences.
    Referencing your comment "faux measurement and attribution", I have no doubt whatsoever that any full service media agency can deliver far better and as importantly more meaningful valid metrics for any brand plans without this platform. 
    As we always researched on behalf of the brands we managed, "cost per thousand WHAT?" because we knew that CPM typically stands for, "Completely Positively Mad"!  (Hint: It's fundamentally about reach and recency of your target that is actually exposed to the advertising and not impressions rendered on a device, also called 'viewable impressions'.)

  3. Dave Morgan from Simulmedia replied, August 14, 2020 at 12:16 p.m.

    Tony, I'm totally with you. Part of the solution is to take money away from those who are bad (or at least NOT good) actors- I count Facebook in that crowd - as well as for broad based high quality news and journalism to build models that work better for advertisers.

  4. Tony Jarvis from Olympic Media Consultancy, August 14, 2020 at 2:05 p.m.

    Dave:  It appears that you are suggesting that "broad based high quality news and journalism" properties do not generally work for advertisers today and also such quality also comes at too high a cost to the average consumer?
    However, accurate trustworthy broad coverage, not predominently opinion based on established liars, can serve to inform and educate when we are part of the "uninformed" on numerous topics.  For brands in ubiquitous categories, such broad appeal based media vehicles can deliver massive reach (based on contacts not impressions, please) week after week without generating excessive frequency of exposure - which Erwin Ephron referred to as the "crab-grass" in any media plan.  These mass media platforms offer a huge potential marketing asset to brands beyond direct response approaches typical of digital social media that fail to build long term brand equity. 
    As a former newspaper man, I agree that newspapers, which we could usually rely on for accurate broad information, missed the digital boat relative to both advertisers and readers.  They are catching up fast digitally and their established high standards of chasing the truth through journalism are being exposed everyday via their formerly little known reporters who are now their high profile stars ... notbaly on the good actors cable news networks.  
    Back to ad costs and CPMs.  Advertising the relevant brand in The Atlantic or The New York Times today in the print and digital editions - priceless??? 
    In terms of the evolving "great unwashed" in the US it appears that ~40% are not interested in accuracy and trustworthiness in journalism whether it is digital or not.  And yet subscription revenue is a key to its survival.  What price democracy?  As a long time  New York Times subscriber some things are simply worth the premium.  However, you are correct.  Advertisers can play a fundamantal role.  They just have to check the media vehicle's environment and quality!

  5. Dave Morgan from Simulmedia replied, August 14, 2020 at 3:21 p.m.

    Tony, you and I vehemently agree, as I would expect :-)
    it is not that I don't think that bradbased mass news properties work for advertisers. They do and are invaluable. It's that in the digital world ad buyers don't value them appropriately and prefer to throw their money at faux precision social platforms that really possess little true ad reach. We need to fix that. Help publishers better build and monetize mass reach news media. And educate advertisers about the inadequacies -  of and real harm caused by - the social platforms like Facebook.

  6. Tony Jarvis from Olympic Media Consultancy, August 14, 2020 at 4:29 p.m.

    You are talking my language - media measurement, methodologies, terms, definitions and the ARF media hierarchy model (which is a fundamental brilliant construct but does require an update).  I would agree that generally digital media panners/buyers and especially the data engineeers do not understand, perhaps conveniently: What exactly is being measured?  How valid is is the measurement technique?  What do the resutling metrics reflect and not reflect?  What terminology is being used to describe the resulting metrics?  What are the definitions of those terms used from this measurement approach?  (When is an impression not an impression?)  Are the various metrics identified (in the faux precision digital data typically offered) comparable with the metrics from other major media platforms based on years of experience and use?  (That's a rhetorical question!)  Etc. Etc.
    I am trying to address this horrendous lack of compatibilty and harmonization in media measurement, terminolgy and definitions with MRC and ARF.  Any help appreciated.  Maybe a special Task Force at the ANA in collaboration with the WFA which is currently evaluating cross-media measurement and the value of an impression. 
    Ads or content rendered on a screen, through a speaker or an a page (the so called and misunderstood "viewable impressions" that hugely favours digital social media over other formats) is not a meaningful common currency that advertisers or their media agencies (or content programmers) shoud be supporting especially for cross-media comparisons however convenient and easily identifed that metric is. 
    Rendered is and always was merely just a proof of delivery.  No more, no less.  Even MRC has stated that "viewable impressions" is not a media currency.  Without known measured exposure of the brand messsage or editorial/program content to the target group there can be neither ad effects nor viewer/listener/reader intelligence for the content programmers/editors.  In short, if you do not provide measurement of actual exposures or contacts there is no value. 

  7. T C from N, August 14, 2020 at 10:29 p.m.

    New York Times...great publication?  One editor was recently run out of town for having the audacity to publish an opposing opinion!  From a US Senator and a war veteran no less, who put his life on the line on the battlefield for our country.  Another editor, Bari Weiss, not a conservative voice, resigned rather than continue to work there under the current mob like mentality, because it now lacks real journalism and she wasnt considerd woke enough.  Its not the NYT of old.  Her quote "What rules that remain at The Times are applied with extreme selectivity. If a person’s ideology is in keeping with the new orthodoxy, they and their work remain unscrutinized. Everyone else lives in fear of the digital thunderdome. Online venom is excused so long as it is directed at the proper targets."  You used the NYT as an example of a great publication?

  8. Dave Morgan from Simulmedia replied, August 15, 2020 at 11:57 a.m.

    Tony, I agree that nailing better measurement will be key. For sure, the ANA & WFA initiatives around unduplicated cross channel reach will be key. As will MRC's work on video ad standards. Critical will be the capacity to have a tactically available, trusted, near real-time measure and projection of short term and long-term sales effect. The news media has to be able to prove on a campaign by campaign basis how well it works. Here, I hope, the ARF's latest ROI initiative could be helpful.
    However, to make all of this work, the news media publishers need to build products that work better in capturing and holding audiences' attention in a digital age where scarce distribution is no longer available and a crutch. That is what Facebook has done. It regurgitates stuff to peoople that it knows they like and will share and keep returning and sharing - emplty calaroies. We need some really innovative work in this area. I am hopeful that folks like Axios and Reount have models that might work. Certainly, the Washington Post is doing a great job making its digital property work. Who will be the others?

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