CMDC has a new partner in its fight to save Canadian news media

The Canadian Media Directors’ Council has a new ally in its struggle to save quality news media in Canada, and has set a new goal to increase advertiser spending with Canadian publishers.

The partnership with U.S.-based NewsGuard is intended to help CMDC members—which are responsible for 96% of total ad spend in Canada—ensure their clients’ ad budgets go toward legitimate publishers, including those in local markets and covering underrepresented communities, rather than to fake and untrustworthy news media sites.

Launched in 2018 by two former journalists and media execs, NewGuard employs trained journalists to give credibility ratings and “nutrition labels” for news and information sites. Agencies can license NewsGuard ratings to help shape their own inclusion and block lists, and ensure their advertising isn’t funding lies and misinformation.

“Their mission is completely aligned to our mission of combating misinformation and creating brand-safe digital environments, and supporting local news and trusted news sources,” said CMDC president Shannon Lewis. CMDC members will be able to integrate NewsGuard’s “responsible advertising for news segments”—inclusion and exclusion lists based on their ratings—at preferred rates intended to encourage widespread usage.

Lewis has made supporting quality news journalism a core objective for the CMDC, including launching the Canadian Media Manifesto last year.

“Canadian advertisers and their media agencies have a huge role to play in supporting high-quality journalism which is important to our democracy,” she told The Message. “I don’t think our industry is aware enough of that…. Our investing in the Canadian media economy ultimately goes back to investing in Canadian democracy.”

The problem of advertiser support—or lack thereof—for news media has become acute in recent years, especially as programmatic advertising has exploded.

At the same time that tech platforms like Facebook and Google are taking an ever-growing share of advertiser spend away from traditional news journalism, they have also made it easier for sensational, often fake and malicious media content to proliferate, attract eyeballs and therefore programmatic ad dollars.

Advertiser concerns about brand safety also mean that quality reporting about important topics can get caught up by ever-expanding block lists: Advertisers who don’t want to appear near racist content are also inadvertently withholding support for quality reporting about racism, for example.

The result has been a steady flow of advertising dollars away from professional high-quality journalism, which is particularly harmful to local and smaller media, and the communities they cover.

The NewsGuard partnership was announced during a CMDC leadership summit in late April, at which Lewis revealed new specific goals and targets for those supporting the Canadian Media Manifesto.

The CMDC launched the Manifesto in September with an explicit goal of directing more advertising budget to local media. According to the CMDC, 448 news operations in 323 communities across Canada have been shuttered since the 2008 recession, and 48 community newspapers have been shuttered and 3,000 journalism jobs lost just since the start of the pandemic.

“Local news is part of the fabric of so many communities across Canada,” said Lewis, in a release announcing the NewsGuard deal. “Through this partnership with NewsGuard, our members will be able to invest in quality Canadian journalism, with a strong focus on diversity and responsible advertising. A healthy Canadian media ecosystem supports the economy, fosters responsible media, and gives our clients more opportunity to connect with engaged and diverse Canadian audiences.”

By 2025, CMDC wants the Canadian share of digital media investment to increase to 25%, up from 19% now. That could equate to $350 million in new funding to quality Canadian publishers in the next three years.

As part of the effort to quantify the problem with programmatic advertising, NewsGuard worked with Comscore last year to analyze advertising across 7,500 sites. They estimated that 1.68% of display ad spending went to misinformation publishers.

Based on the global programmatic ad spend of $155 billion, that equates to $2.6 billion worth of programmatically placed advertising on untrustworthy sites that were given a “red” rating by NewsGuard. It also found ads from more than 4,000 brands on COVID-19 misinformation sites.

Aside from the social value of supporting news and local media, NewsGuard says that brands benefit from appearing on trusted news sites. The company partnered with IPG Mediabrands to test its ratings dataset, and found that effective CPMs were 9% lower for NewsGuard-approved news sites, while CTR were 143% higher.

“It’s the classic case of doing well by doing good,” said NewsGuard Co-CEO Steven Brill. “Not only can advertisers support quality Canadian journalism and build goodwill with customers— they can do it while seeing lower costs and better ad performance.”

“We’re thrilled to be able to offer Canadian advertisers a way to support quality news without the risk inherent in programmatic advertising of unintentionally supporting misinformation or unreliable news,” said NewsGuard Co-CEO Gordon Crovitz.


David Brown