Friday’s ‘Journalism Matters’ session hosted by Zenith and Newsworks discussed the vital role a free press plays in ensuring conflict is covered accurately, why war reporting calls for nuanced discussions around brand safety and more
Taking place last week, the ongoing war in Ukraine featured heavily in the panel’s discussions about why journalism matters to readers, brands and society.
For Gemma Aldridge, editor of the Sunday Mirror and the People, the presence of a quality free press accurately covering events such as war is more important than ever.
“The two things that are at the heart of everything that we do really are truth and justice”, she said, later adding the importance of spotlighting unheard voices and ensuring the public has reliable access to accurate and trustworthy reporting.
“[These are some] of the most valuable things you can do as a news brand, which why we’re so heavily invested in having boots on the ground [in Ukraine], making sure that we’re telling the stories – not just of what’s happening militarily and politically, but what’s happening on a human level, too.”
Holding authority to account
But it is not just in times of conflict that journalism is a vital pillar of society: high levels of disinformation online have made trust essential for readers looking for accurate news sources. “Selecting the brands that we trust is more important than it ever has been”, said Aldridge.
She also pointed to the sliding levels of trust around the world in government, police, and other traditional institutions of authority as an example of news brands’ continued importance.
“It…left this vacuum which has been filled by trusted news brands. Those news brands have been able to expose wrongdoing in those areas, expose disinformation and misinformation and show themselves to be on the right side of history.”
That trust also comes from being able to transcend the political leanings news brands may have. Aldridge explained: “Our dedication really is to exposing wrongdoing, holding power to account and making sure that authority figures are made to act in an appropriate manner. It just so happens that that leads us down quite a left-wing route.”
She later added: “We wouldn’t support the Labour Party to the detriment of our readers… our readers come first and then we create content which is tailored to them.”
Readers are undeterred by hard news
Given Ukraine’s dominance in the news cycle, the topic of brand safety also featured prominently in the panel’s discussion. With the reach and trust that news brands provide to brands both in hard news and soft news environments, Zenith CSO Richard Kirk called brands’ increasing conservatism at times like these a “shame”.
“I think this is a mistake because there is a huge amount of evidence… [that] suggests people clearly delineate between news and the advertising that supports it… people understand that that stuff doesn’t exist without the advertising system.”
Kirk also said: “It’s a phenomenally important channel… from a media type point of view in terms of trying to deliver a campaign in a holistic way. Slightly more dwell time in press… gives you an opportunity to really land more of the campaigns.”
“Brands want to be associated with trust”
Gareth George, RVU group head of media, agreed with Kirk, arguing that more nuanced discussions around brand safety were important.
Encouraging discussions before big news events break, George pointed to the difference between advertising around clearly unsafe material such as racism or conspiracy theories and advertising around hard news or opinionated content produced by trusted, quality sources.
“It’s important to have the barriers established well in advance so that everybody’s working off the same page”, he said. “All the way from C suite, all the way through to in-house marketeers [and] third-parties.”
Particularly pointing out the rise of fake news and misinformation, he added: “Brands want to be associated with trust, with informed voices, and I think never has that been more important than it is today.”
Age is no barrier to demand for quality journalism
One question from the audience sparked a discussion around what the future holds for news brands: “Why don’t young people like papers?”
Zoe Novick, client partner at Zenith, called that a “generalisation”, explaining the way major cultural and news moments make all audiences lean into journalism, whatever the platform.
“I think there’s just more places out there to get information”, Novick explained, adding: “If there [are] key times, let’s say with the current situation, people are leaning in even more to news brands, they’re going to naturally have that bias to lean into that space.”
Kirk added the essential role news brands will play in ensuring younger readers have access to trusted information online in a heavily fragmented media landscape.
He said: “I don’t think that there’s less demand among younger audiences for news, but the fact is that the route you can choose to get to that news are myriad now.”
Why does journalism matter?
Finally, asked to complete the sentence “Journalism matters because…”, the panel again returned to themes of trust and accountability.
Kirk rounded the session off from a planning perspective: “Journalism matters because it provides… a very highly trusted, super relevant environment for advertisers to appear in that… drives large amount of reach and significant signalling value for those brands.”