The Missing Billion

The Missing Billion

By Tracy De Goose,
Former Executive Chair of Newsworks,
The Marketing Body for UK Newspapers

I’m going to dive straight in and start with the C-word and talk about commercial.


Because we need to talk about the money. We have been selling the wrong thing and for too long. We need to change that, fast. And, I can only do that with your help and support.

So, why have we been selling the wrong thing?

Because as an industry we’ve been selling our advertising space and not our journalism. It has lost us about one billion pounds of ad revenue over the last decade. One billion pounds less at a time when we really need it. But now we have a perfect window to change that. A perfect window’ to start getting the investment back into journalism.


Because we are at a critical crossroads for the news industry. New s readership is at record levels. Forty-four million people read news journalism across newspapers and digital devices every week. This is about four to five million more readers than a decade ago. That’s 10% growth. And more importantly, 44 million is the same weekly reach as Google. That surprises many people.


Because no one in our industry ever talks about total readership. The story that has dominated over the last 10 years has been the one about declining newspaper circulations.

Newspapers are important. Eleven million people in the UK read a national newspaper every day. But 19 million people are reading our journalism online. That’s around two-thirds of our audience. It’s where our growth in readership is coming from. And that’s where it will continue to come from. Two million more people every day are reading news journalism online compared to a year ago.

So, record numbers are reading the news. And readers are following us and our journalism as we transition online.

In any other sector that kind of growth would be celebrated, packaged up and sold, and told repeatedly, to advertisers who play a huge part in funding our industry.

This article appeared in the 2020 special edition of the The Innovation in News Media World Report. Get your copy of the report today.

Why do we have a window of opportunity right now ?

Because public trust in new s brands and demand for trusted sources of news and information is soaring.

The perception of the news industry is changing – trust is on the rise. According to our research, 69% of people say they trust their chosen news brand.

Edelman’s Trust Barometer shows that people’s trust in established news brands grew from 48% in 2017 to 60% in 2019. Compare that to social media where trust languishes at 29%.

Six out of 10 people say they rely more heavily on established news brands since the rise of fake news. This is hardly surprising when you consider the alleged meddling by Russia into our democratic processes, the proliferation of fake news and the spread of misinformation.

And let’s not forget Google’s dodgy track record on brand safety and the ad revenue mistakenly generated from jihadi videos.

With the recent General Election in the UK, Facebook’s stance on political ads has brought all these problems back into stark focus. Recently I heard three senior journalists explain why it’s both a great time to be a journalist and a critical time for journalism.

People are looking for depth. They are demanding more analysis, news and information from the experts they can trust.


Because people are looking for depth.

They are demanding more analysis, news and information from the experts they can trust.

Journalism matters. Now more than ever.

So, where does that leave us?

On all the metrics that matter to advertisers – growth, trust and demand – we are in great shape. But – and it’s that big one billion pound but – for all this growth the money still isn’t coming our way.

According to the forecasts, online ad revenue was set to rise by 5.1% in 2019. Mildly encouraging, but far from enough.

Why isn’t the money coming faster?

The simple answer: digital advertising is broken.

It is dominated by an open marketplace in which content has been sold as one amorphous mass. There is little attention to the quality of the content . Or the attention of the audience.

hi fact, the word “content” has been hijacked by the bullshitters, the propagandists, the fakers, and the like. This means quality’ journalism is being lumped together with this “content” and sold to advertisers.

Those advertisers now find themselves in this bonkers situation where they are no longer sure where their advertising is being shown. Nor are they sure if it is being seen by a human.

Unsurprisingly, trust in advertising has slumped to an all-time low: from 50% to 25%, according to the UK Advertising Association.

So, why aren’t things changing?

They are. Thankfully the advertisers, the regulators and the politicians are beginning to wake up to all of this. But it is slow. And the stranglehold the tech platforms have on the advertising market is tight.

However, the digital world is shifting on its axis and the next phase of digital advertising is looking significantly brighter for publishers.

Every piece of evidence show s that concentrating digital spend into quality journalistic environments delivers. And more and more advertisers are ready to listen.

Why do I need your help?

Because we have to take advantage of this shift. We can’t sit here and expect everything to fall into our laps. We can’t let the opportunity pass us by.

We are the greatest storytellers. But we haven’t always been great at telling our own story’. We need to change this and fast. We must learn to tell one unified industry story, more powerfully, more consistently and more frequently.

I am committing to be a figurehead for this. I have been to the United Nations to talk about the digital ad market and the many challenges that I have outlined here. I am making more noise in more places to help turn the tide in our direction.

So, if I could ask one thing, it would be for all those in the news business to give our industry the oxygen of publicity’ it deserves, to get our side of the story out there.


Because journalism matters. And we want that billion back.

This article was adapted from a speech delivered at the UK’s Society of Editors 20th annual conference in 2019.