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Editor calls for end to ‘race to the bottom’ caused by publishers’ ad models

James Mitchinson newA regional daily editor has warned current advertising models have led to a “race to the bottom” for some publishers and called for more cash to be directed towards public interest journalism.

James Mitchinson, who edits the Yorkshire Post, wants to see the establishment of both a new “conscientious advertisers’ network” and a “responsible publishers’ network”.

The two groups would work together to encourage public interest journalism, with big advertisers taking a “conscientious decision” to support trusted brands that publish responsibly, he said.

James, pictured, touted the idea in a debate held to mark the release of the annual Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism’s digital news report yesterday.

He told HTFP: “I have since had several supportive emails – in the space of just a few hours – from people keen to pick up on my point about the possibility of a conscientious advertisers’ network coming together with a responsible publishers’ network in an attempt to divert much-needed advertising revenues towards public interest journalism; journalism done for the betterment of the communities it serves and therefore society as a whole.”

“I call this – putting myself at risk of being seen as a hopeless, naive romantic – giving the internet a conscience. I don’t doubt certain cynical types will roll their eyes and utter ‘who does Mitchinson think he is’ but I don’t care.

“Trust in the media in some quarters – not local journalism, I hasten to add – is at an all-time low and if we continue to believe none of that is our fault whilst changing nothing then we are resigning ourselves to a single catastrophic outcome.

“There is no doubt in my mind that if big advertisers take a conscientious decision to support trusted brands publish responsibly; publishing journalism (not just content) that nourishes communities – rather than unwittingly investing in outlets that seek to commoditise audiences in order to exploit an indiscriminate paymaster – then the hateful, partisan, agenda-driven Goliaths who think nothing of demonising immigrants, legitimising domestic abuse and scandalising the courts can be made to do better.”

James noted an “honest broker” would be required to aid the foundation of such organisations.

“I have long been convinced that the indiscriminate nature of the programmatic advertising business model makes it vulnerable to exploitation. It has caused a race to the bottom, with some publishers – not all – and editors gaming the business model with their commissioning decisions, rather than thinking about what is in the public interest.

“When that happens, editorial decisions are steered by pure economics rather than robust, creditable editorial principles.”

“It has long been my view that a journalistic ecosystem of that nature is a linear route to oblivion, where journalism becomes a homogeneous mass of content engineered not for the nuances of the people or places it serves but as a hack in order to win prizes from something that does not have the best interests of our titles, our employees and most of all, our readers, at heart.”

“It is clear to me that an awful lot of the power to achieve that which is possible sits with the advertisers.

“I am utterly convinced it will take just one chief executive of a multinational organisation to say: enough is enough – I want to help make the change; protect quality journalism; improve the whole of the internet and make a wholesome contribution to society.

“Others will then follow. The key for all publishers, great and small, is to stand ready to listen, learn, adapt and evolve when that moment comes.”