Blackfriar: How fake news is driving advertisers back to trusted media

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Johnston Press, the publisher of The Yorkshire Post, highlighted “early improvements” in the print advertising market in its results this week as concerns about fake news and social media privacy drive a return to newspapers.

The industry has struggled after advertisers moved to online platforms, forcing several publishers to cut costs.

However, in a possible first sign of a reversal, Johnston Press said that advertisers are starting to increase spending in regional print.

This comes at a time when the European Union is set to demand that tech giants like Facebook and Alphabet do more to stop the spread of fake news by the end of the year to avoid possible regulatory actions.

The measures include improving the scrutiny of advertisement placements.

Social media platforms have come under mounting criticism after personal information of millions of users was gathered from Facebook by Cambridge Analytica, a political consultancy.

The ramifications are enormous.

Can social media sway elections and referendums? Are big brand advertisers spending their money talking to robots or real consumers?

Analysts at Liberum said that Johnston Press’s comments could very well be an early sign of advertisers returning some of their spend to more “brand safe” environments.

In the wake of the Facebook scandal, advertisers are starting to question the merit of social media advertising and analysts believe we could see a renaissance of traditional newspaper and TV advertising.

Earlier this week, pub chain Wetherspoons announced it is closing down its Twitter, Instagram and Facebook accounts for all its 900 pubs and head office with immediate effect following the trolling of MPs and others.

Wetherspoons’ decision to quit social media could signal the beginning of a general backlash against social media by big brands.

Nick Lee, professor of marketing at Warwick Business School, said he hopes Wetherspoons’ move might inspire more companies to address the return they get from social media investments.

However, he pointed out that this could be a cost-cutting exercise dressed up as a social statement, hoping to capture what seems to be the mood of the times.

It could also be a brand-building exercise, hoping to position Wetherspoons as a brand that cares about the impact of social media in today’s society.

Mr Lee said that would be an interesting and courageous place to be for Wetherspoons.

Whatever the motivation, this decision should encourage brands that use social media to interrogate the benefits they really get from social channels. As Mr Lee pointed out, are they really providing a strategic benefit to the firm, or are they only doing it because everyone else is?

Meanwhile, Facebook has said it will continue to force people to accept targeted ads as a condition of using its service – a move that is hardly likely to endear it to sceptical users.

Respected newspapers like The Yorkshire Post spend years training its journalists to recognise fact from fiction and lies from truth.

It is engrained into our psyche to delve deep and report the news without malice or favour.

If someone makes an accusation, we give the accused the right to reply.

In a world where politicians across the globe peddle lies and misinformation, constantly changing their position and contradicting themselves, it is time for big brands to invest their money in trusted sources of news and information.