Learn more about Peltz-Steele v. UMass Faculty Federation at Court Listener (complaint) and the Liberty Justice Center. The case is now on appeal in the First Circuit as no. 22-1466 (PACER paywall). Please direct media inquiries to Kristen Williamson.

Sunday, January 23, 2022

Business touting 'access,' 'journalism' is an ad broker

I find this ad,* "Because Journalism Matters," below, which I saw on my local morning news, troubling.

One could certainly get the impression that the advertiser is a business concerned principally with what the words say: access, accountability, objectivity, and journalism.  So I was pretty excited to see what journalistic outfit made this sleek sales pitch for all that I hold sacred.

The Trade Desk, it turns out, is not a journalistic outfit at all.  It's a media advertising buying platform.  The kind of outfit, I presume, that uses aggregated personal data obtained under the weak American consent regime to target advertising for viewers like me.

That's not all bad.  My wife was quick to point out that ads pays for the journalism I'm watching, insofar as one can still describe local news as journalism.  And The Trade Desk, on its website at least, does advocate for an open internet, so, I presume, supports net neutrality, which is a good thing.

But the commercial motive hardly equates to the public interest that drives journalism.  The ad opens with images of working journalists.  This is misappropriation, in my estimation.  The selection of words, access, accountability, objectivity, and journalism, doubles down on a misleading impression.

The company's website is a bit more honest, inserting between "because" and "matters": trust, reach, measurement, and innovation.  In descriptions, those words are contextualized in commerce.  Trust means transparency to the ad buyer about the ads, not the public's trust.  Reach and measurement plainly are about advertising efficacy.  And innovation, "[f]rom privacy to identity," "focuse[s] on the interests of the entire industry" (my emphasis), not innovation in journalism, and certainly not innovation in the protection of personal privacy and identity from industry.  

Those priorities don't sync in my mind with what looks like a journalist running down a street with a camera and a press badge in one of the opening stills.  Unless he's in a hurry to invade someone's privacy.

I don't know the answer to our woes in journalism, whether nonprofits, public funding, etc.  But if The Trade Desk, however laudable a model in the advertising business, marks the way forward for journalism, then the craft that I learned in j-school will soon be a quaint anachronism comprising only words.

* I realize that by drawing attention to this ad, I'm giving the advertiser exactly what it wants, in a no-publicity-is-bad-publicity way.  I decided that sharing the ad with commentary was only fair.  You decide, as the saying goes.

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