ARTICLE: Advertisers hold back investigative business journalism

Untitled by Jana Schneider, licence CC0 1.0

The dependence on advertising revenue discourages newsrooms from pursuing critical investigations, Maha Rafi Atal, of University of Cambridge, writes. The author interviewed 22 American and British journalists working in six newsrooms. Atal also had the opportunity to investigate the newsrooms’ financial statements.

Many of the newsrooms were heavily reliant on advertising revenue, which made the journalists careful to not anger their patrons. In many cases journalists are made well aware of which companies are supporting them through advertising, creating an “informal culture of deference to advertisers”.

Sometimes stories get made or even published, but are shelved or retracted later. Journalists may even get fired or end up resigning over what they consider untenable working conditions.

Even when no advertisers are involved, the culture in these newsrooms repels journalists away from investigative business journalism. Modern audience metrics allow even rank-and-file journalists to monitor their stories’ success among readers – and deep-diving investigations rarely prove to be hits.

The article “The cultural and economic power of advertisers in the business press” was published by the journal Journalism. It is available online on the publisher’s website (abstract free).

Picture: Untitled by Jana Schneider, licence CC0 1.0.

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