#BackdontBlock in UK appeals to advertisers to remove “coronavirus” from blocklists

By Hannah Ohm Thomas


London, United Kingdom


This week, the UK news industry came together to campaign for the removal of “coronavirus” from blocklists. 

Blocklists are lists of keywords that advertisers put in place to stop their adverts appearing against inappropriate content. However, their inclusion of the word coronavirus has had the unintended consequence of penalising newspapers for producing vital, informative journalism covering the most important issue to affect the country for a generation.

While all news brands have seen a surge in demand from readers for quality, accurate reporting, advertising industry “blocklists” are preventing adverts from appearing alongside online stories about coronavirus. 

If the pandemic lasts for another three months, the total loss to news brands is expected to be £50 million.

In a letter to advertisers, Newsworks’ Executive Chair Tracy De Groose called on the advertising community to remove blocklists from trusted UK news brands to ensure they can continue to fund quality British journalism at a time of national crisis. 

The appeal is supported by the news industry’s trade bodies Newsworks, the News Media Association, the Society of Editors, the Association for Online Publishers, Internet Advertising Bureau, and the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising.

In an online world clouded by fake news and misinformation, the coronavirus crisis has seen a surge of new readers turning to trusted news brands and publications for the facts they can trust and rely on. 

A recent global report recently conducted by Edelman, Trust Barometer Special Report: Brand Trust and the Coronavirus Pandemic, found 67% of Brits are “getting most of their information on the virus from major news organisations” well ahead of national government (34%) and social media (22%).

The release of the latest readership audience from PAMCo last week was further evidence of a longer growth trend towards trusted news environments. Over 34 million people a day now read a news brand — a rise of 3.2 million daily readers compared to a year ago. 

Yet worryingly, in parallel with journalists’ endeavours to keep readers informed, the word “coronavirus” is fast accelerating up advertiser blocklists, leaving swathes of news inventory redundant of much needed ad revenue.    

Despite this, editorial teams across the country have launched a series of new dynamic features and initiatives to deliver growing demand for up-to-the-minute information and advice as the severity of the virus spreads. 

In addition to daily news reports and in-depth analysis, these include everything from daily podcasts, newsletters, Q&As, reader focused conference calls with senior journalists, special pull-outs, and campaigns focused on honouring the heroics of NHS staff. To ensure that people have access to news in isolation, many are now offering free home delivery for the next 12 weeks.

Last week, regional daily news brands joined forces by publishing the same front page and launching #ThereWithYou campaign, to reassure readers that their local title is there to support them in these challenging times. 

The creativity and dynamism of our newsrooms is astounding. Our journalists are working harder than ever to ask the right questions and to deliver accurate information in the most helpful and accessible ways possible for their readers.

Yet the unintended consequence of blocking “coronavirus” is that news brands’ ability to generate advertising revenues are being penalised at a time when record audiences are relying on trusted news in brand safe journalistic environments.

A report by The Merrick School of Business at the University of Baltimore estimated that UK publishers missed out on an estimated £170million pounds last year due to adblocking. That’s about one in every five pounds of ad revenue lost at a time when journalism is needed more now than ever before.  

We continue to work across the industry with the trade bodies, agencies, and advertisers to help solve this issue but we need more urgency — because it really matters to legitimate news brands and publishers both large and small, mass market and niche.

An important pillar of our democracy is being compromised at a time when it is more important than ever. Readers are relying on us right now, and we are relying on advertisers to help ensure the public receive information and advice from the very best sources.

Our appeal to advertisers is incredibly simple: Please back, and don’t block British journalism by removing “coronavirus” from your blocklists.

About Hannah Ohm Thomas

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