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Michaela Jefferson 

Covid-19: publishers ask advertisers to 'back, don't block'

Covid-19: publishers ask advertisers to 'back, don't block'

UK news publishers have rallied together to ask advertisers to support journalism during the Covid-19 pandemic, and help prevent the industry losing millions due to advertising 'blocklists'.

Newsbrands are expected to lose £50 million in advertising revenue over the next three months, as numerous ads are prevented from appearing alongside online stories with the word 'coronavirus' in them.

National and regional publishers including News UK, The Guardian, Reach Plc and JPI Media have therefore penned an open letter, published today, calling on advertisers to remove blocklists from trusted newsbrands.

"Across our own industry, 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," the letter said.

"Yet, as the crisis unfolds, the strain on journalist resources and their ability to keep reporting is only going to get tougher."

Acknowledging that marketing budgets are "under real pressure now", the letter continued: "All we ask is that when you launch your next campaign you check you’re not unknowingly blocking trusted newsbrands from your plans.

"Readers are relying on us right now, and we are relying on advertising to help ensure the public receive information and advice from the very best sources."

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

Newsworks' executive chair Tracey De Groose, who wrote the letter on behalf of the industry, added that there has been a "huge surge" in reader demand for trusted, accurate reporting during the ongoing crisis.

“Our unified industry appeal to advertisers is incredibly simple: back, and don’t block British journalism. Please remove ‘coronavirus’ from your blocklists," she said.

Lynne Anderson, News Media Association deputy chief executive, added: “The critical role played by news media in getting trusted and accurate information out to the public has been widely acknowledged during the coronavirus outbreak. Advertisers should be supporting this vital public service provided by the media.”

Overzealous keyword blocking has been an ongoing issue of contention for digital publishers, with millions lost in ad revenue as brands and agencies block terms such as "sperm whale", "shoot", "Star Wars" and even "Pepper Pig".

While the intention of blocklists is to stop adverts appearing against inappropriate or harmful content, they can also penalise publications for producing vital journalism and covering contentious issues.

Recent reports have also found that some of the most popularly blocked words include those associated with the LGBT+ community, meaning entire publications speaking to that audience are being inadvertently blocked from digital campaigns.

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