The year advertisers stop funding misinformation

“When brands stop advertising on misinformation sites and instead advertise on quality news sites, their CPM price for ads goes down and engagement with their ads goes up.”

When Joshua Benton solicits these annual Nieman Lab predictions, he graciously reassures, “For the record, we don’t go back later and try to judge whose predictions were the most accurate.” Despite my prediction last year being wrong, I predict this is the year when I will finally be right.

Last year, I confidently predicted that during 2022 big brands would stop their advertising from unintentionally funding misinformation on the internet. Most digital advertising these days is delivered programmatically, meaning through an algorithm so opaque that brand managers and advertising agency executives don’t know where the ads run.

I thought I knew advertisers well enough to predict they would all react immediately as soon as they learned where their ads are running: I spent almost 30 years at The Wall Street Journal, and as its publisher I oversaw billions of dollars in advertising. I was sure CEOs and CMOs would quickly stop their ads supporting misinformation once they saw the kinds of websites their ads fund.

I was wrong.

NewsGuard analysts have found ads for thousands of brands — virtually every blue-chip company, large hospital system, university, and government agency — routinely appearing on misinformation websites and apps. We inform marketers, including by sharing screenshots of their ads on these websites. Marketers are almost always surprised to learn where their ads are running. Some top brands have taken steps to get their ads off websites that NewsGuard analysts have rated as untrustworthy, including for spreading healthcare hoaxes, false narratives about elections and Russian disinformation about Ukraine.

To my surprise, however, most brand managers shrug when they learn where their ads are running. They may figure that, with so many brands advertising on so many misinformation sites, no one brand will get blamed for the group problem.

The result of thousands of brands continuing to run ads — again, unintentionally — on misinformation sites is that an estimate of $2.6 billion a year in ad revenue funds these sites. This goldmine explains how thousands of misinformation websites stay in business. The more outlandish claims they publish, the more traffic they generate and the more advertising revenue they get. For example, NewsGuard analysts have identified 309 sites publishing disinformation about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, including false narratives that Nazis rule Ukraine and that the U.S. operates bioweapons labs there. Many of these sites are funded by advertising from Western companies. This means companies claiming they no longer do business in Russia are funding Russian information operations targeting citizens in the West.

A good example is the website that spread the false claim that the man who attacked Rep. Nancy Pelosi’s husband, Paul Pelosi, was a gay prostitute. NewsGuard analysts found ads from dozens of name brands on the website of the Santa Monica Observer, including alongside its baseless Pelosi story. These included ads for a large American bank, the top children’s entertainment brand, a telecom conglomerate, global car-rental company, online travel site, grocery chain, and major nonprofits. This website has been on the NewsGuard advertising exclusion list for years, having previously published whoppers such as that Hillary Clinton used a body double to debate Donald Trump.

When my colleagues at NewsGuard inform brands where their ads run, some marketers do start using exclusion lists, protecting their brand safety as they remove support for misinformation. Case studies show that brands also do well by doing good: When brands stop advertising on misinformation sites and instead advertise on quality news sites, their CPM price for ads goes down and engagement with their ads goes up. The NewsGuard inclusion lists brings blue-chip advertising for the first time to many news sites serving local, Black, Hispanic, Asian and LGBTQ+ communities.

But most brands still have not taken effective steps to keep their ads off misinformation sites. Next time you see an outlandish story on a site like the Santa Monica Observer, look at whose ads are appearing on the story. You’ll likely see the most popular name brands, including those that otherwise claim to take social responsibility seriously.

NewsGuard will continue in 2023 to monitor which brands are doing their part to reduce the $2.6 billion going to misinformation sources. With 91% of Americans in a recent survey saying they worry about misinformation, it’s unsustainable that the brands targeting them as consumers will continue to be the ones funding misinformation with their advertising dollars.

Gordon Crovitz, a former publisher of The Wall Street Journal, is co-CEO of NewsGuard.

When Joshua Benton solicits these annual Nieman Lab predictions, he graciously reassures, “For the record, we don’t go back later and try to judge whose predictions were the most accurate.” Despite my prediction last year being wrong, I predict this is the year when I will finally be right.

Last year, I confidently predicted that during 2022 big brands would stop their advertising from unintentionally funding misinformation on the internet. Most digital advertising these days is delivered programmatically, meaning through an algorithm so opaque that brand managers and advertising agency executives don’t know where the ads run.

I thought I knew advertisers well enough to predict they would all react immediately as soon as they learned where their ads are running: I spent almost 30 years at The Wall Street Journal, and as its publisher I oversaw billions of dollars in advertising. I was sure CEOs and CMOs would quickly stop their ads supporting misinformation once they saw the kinds of websites their ads fund.

I was wrong.

NewsGuard analysts have found ads for thousands of brands — virtually every blue-chip company, large hospital system, university, and government agency — routinely appearing on misinformation websites and apps. We inform marketers, including by sharing screenshots of their ads on these websites. Marketers are almost always surprised to learn where their ads are running. Some top brands have taken steps to get their ads off websites that NewsGuard analysts have rated as untrustworthy, including for spreading healthcare hoaxes, false narratives about elections and Russian disinformation about Ukraine.

To my surprise, however, most brand managers shrug when they learn where their ads are running. They may figure that, with so many brands advertising on so many misinformation sites, no one brand will get blamed for the group problem.

The result of thousands of brands continuing to run ads — again, unintentionally — on misinformation sites is that an estimate of $2.6 billion a year in ad revenue funds these sites. This goldmine explains how thousands of misinformation websites stay in business. The more outlandish claims they publish, the more traffic they generate and the more advertising revenue they get. For example, NewsGuard analysts have identified 309 sites publishing disinformation about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, including false narratives that Nazis rule Ukraine and that the U.S. operates bioweapons labs there. Many of these sites are funded by advertising from Western companies. This means companies claiming they no longer do business in Russia are funding Russian information operations targeting citizens in the West.

A good example is the website that spread the false claim that the man who attacked Rep. Nancy Pelosi’s husband, Paul Pelosi, was a gay prostitute. NewsGuard analysts found ads from dozens of name brands on the website of the Santa Monica Observer, including alongside its baseless Pelosi story. These included ads for a large American bank, the top children’s entertainment brand, a telecom conglomerate, global car-rental company, online travel site, grocery chain, and major nonprofits. This website has been on the NewsGuard advertising exclusion list for years, having previously published whoppers such as that Hillary Clinton used a body double to debate Donald Trump.

When my colleagues at NewsGuard inform brands where their ads run, some marketers do start using exclusion lists, protecting their brand safety as they remove support for misinformation. Case studies show that brands also do well by doing good: When brands stop advertising on misinformation sites and instead advertise on quality news sites, their CPM price for ads goes down and engagement with their ads goes up. The NewsGuard inclusion lists brings blue-chip advertising for the first time to many news sites serving local, Black, Hispanic, Asian and LGBTQ+ communities.

But most brands still have not taken effective steps to keep their ads off misinformation sites. Next time you see an outlandish story on a site like the Santa Monica Observer, look at whose ads are appearing on the story. You’ll likely see the most popular name brands, including those that otherwise claim to take social responsibility seriously.

NewsGuard will continue in 2023 to monitor which brands are doing their part to reduce the $2.6 billion going to misinformation sources. With 91% of Americans in a recent survey saying they worry about misinformation, it’s unsustainable that the brands targeting them as consumers will continue to be the ones funding misinformation with their advertising dollars.

Gordon Crovitz, a former publisher of The Wall Street Journal, is co-CEO of NewsGuard.

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Taylor Lorenz   The “creator economy” will be astroturfed

John Davidow   A year of intergenerational learning

Dana Lacey   Tech will screw publishers over

Sarah Alvarez   Dream bigger or lose out

Surya Mattu   Data journalists learn from photojournalists

Laxmi Parthasarathy   Unlocking the silent demand for international journalism

Gina Chua   The traditional story structure gets deconstructed

Don Day   The news about the news is bad. I’m optimistic.

Lisa Heyamoto   The independent news industry gets a roadmap to sustainability

Ryan Gantz   “I’m sorry, but I’m a large language model”

Alex Sujong Laughlin   Credit where it’s due

Stefanie Murray   The year U.S. media stops screwing around and becomes pro-democracy

Larry Ryckman   We’ll work together with our competitors

Danielle K. Brown and Kathleen Searles   DEI efforts must consider mental health and online abuse

Jessica Clark   Open discourse retrenches

Jim VandeHei   There is no “peak newsletter”

Mael Vallejo   More threats to press freedom across the Americas

David Skok   Renewed interest in human-powered reporting

Kavya Sukumar   Belling the cat: The rise of independent fact-checking at scale

Ariel Zirulnick   Journalism doubles down on user needs

Mary Walter-Brown and Tristan Loper   Mission-driven metrics become our North Star

Kirstin McCudden   We’ll codify protection of journalism and newsgathering

Brian Moritz   Rebuilding the news bundle

Paul Cheung   More news organizations will realize they are in the business of impact, not eyeballs

Masuma Ahuja   Journalism starts working for and with its communities

Ben Werdmuller   The internet is up for grabs again

Jody Brannon   We’ll embrace policy remedies

Sarah Stonbely   Growth in public funding for news and information at the state and local levels

Anita Varma   Journalism prioritizes the basic need for survival

Janelle Salanga   Journalists work from a place of harm reduction

Felicitas Carrique and Becca Aaronson   News product goes from trend to standard

Juleyka Lantigua   Newsrooms recognize women of color as the canaries in the coal mine

Sue Robinson   Engagement journalism will have to confront a tougher reality

Jarrad Henderson   Video editing will help people understand the media they consume

Johannes Klingebiel   The innovation team, R.I.P.

Hillary Frey   Death to the labor-intensive memo for prospective hires

Susan Chira   Equipping local journalism

Nicholas Diakopoulos   Journalists productively harness generative AI tools

Valérie Bélair-Gagnon   Well-being will become a core tenet of journalism

Sue Cross   Thinking and acting collectively to save the news

Christina Shih   Shared values move from nice-to-haves to essentials

An Xiao Mina   Journalism in a time of permacrisis

Molly de Aguiar and Mandy Van Deven   Narrative change trend brings new money to journalism

Daniel Trielli   Trust in news will continue to fall. Just look at Brazil.

Julia Angwin   Democracies will get serious about saving journalism

Basile Simon   Towards supporting criminal accountability

Kaitlin C. Miller   Harassment in journalism won’t get better, but we’ll talk about it more openly

Simon Galperin   Philanthropy stops investing in corporate media

Alexandra Borchardt   The year of the climate journalism strategy

Jenna Weiss-Berman   The economic downturn benefits the podcasting industry. (No, really!)

Mauricio Cabrera   It’s no longer about audiences, it’s about communities

Alexandra Svokos   Working harder to reach audiences where they are

Sam Guzik   AI will start fact-checking. We may not like the results.

Jesse Holcomb   Buffeted, whipped, bullied, pulled

Pia Frey   Publishers start polling their users at scale

Victor Pickard   The year journalism and capitalism finally divorce

Jakob Moll   Journalism startups will think beyond English

Tim Carmody   Newsletter writers need a new ethics

Joni Deutsch   Podcast collaboration — not competition — breeds excellence

Sarabeth Berman   Nonprofit local news shows that it can scale

Esther Kezia Thorpe   Subscription pressures force product innovation

Raney Aronson-Rath   Journalists will band together to fight intimidation

A.J. Bauer   Covering the right wrong

Amy Schmitz Weiss   Journalism education faces a crossroads

Bill Grueskin   Local news will come to rely on AI

Janet Haven   ChatGPT and the future of trust 

Mar Cabra   The inevitable mental health revolution

Richard Tofel   The press might get better at vetting presidential candidates

Alex Perry   New paths to transparency without Twitter

Eric Holthaus   As social media fragments, marginalized voices gain more power

Dominic-Madori Davis   Everyone finally realizes the need for diverse voices in tech reporting

Jim Friedlich   Local journalism steps up to the challenge of civic coverage

Walter Frick   Journalists wake up to the power of prediction markets

Emma Carew Grovum   The year to resist forgetting about diversity

Ayala Panievsky   It’s time for PR for journalism

Rodney Gibbs   Recalibrating how we work apart

Tre'vell Anderson   Continued culpability in anti-trans campaigns

Nikki Usher   This is the year of the RSS reader. (Really!)

Jennifer Choi and Jonathan Jackson   Funders finally bet on next-generation news entrepreneurs

Emily Nonko   Incarcerated reporters get more bylines

Andrew Donohue   We’ll find out whether journalism can, indeed, save democracy

Ryan Nave   Citizen journalism, but make it equitable

David Cohn   AI made this prediction

Al Lucca   Digital news design gets interesting again

Jaden Amos   TikTok personality journalists continue to rise

Snigdha Sur   Newsrooms get nimble in a recession

Francesco Zaffarano   There is no end of “social media”

Ryan Kellett   Airline-like loyalty programs try to tie down news readers

Leezel Tanglao   Community partnerships drive better reporting

Christoph Mergerson   The rot at the core of the news business

Eric Nuzum   A focus on people instead of power

Tamar Charney   Flux is the new stability

Cindy Royal   Yes, journalists should learn to code, but…

Moreno Cruz Osório   Brazilian journalism turns wounds into action

Gabe Schneider   Well-funded journalism leaders stop making disparate pay

Julia Beizer   News fatigue shows us a clear path forward

Alan Henry   A reckoning with why trust in news is so low

Nicholas Thompson   The year AI actually changes the media business

Elite Truong   In platform collapse, an opportunity for community

Kathy Lu   We need emotionally agile newsroom leaders

Doris Truong   Workers demand to be paid what the job is worth

Michael Schudson   Journalism gets more and more difficult

Jennifer Brandel   AI couldn’t care less. Journalists will care more. 

Joe Amditis   AI throws a lifeline to local publishers

Burt Herman   The year AI truly arrives — and with it the reckoning

Priyanjana Bengani   Partisan local news networks will collaborate

Rachel Glickhouse   Humanizing newsrooms will be a badge of honor

Barbara Raab   More journalism funders will take more risks

Michael W. Wagner   The backlash against pro-democracy reporting is coming

Karina Montoya   More reporters on the antitrust beat

Delano Massey   The industry shakes its imposter syndrome

Kaitlyn Wells   We’ll prioritize media literacy for children

Ståle Grut   Your newsroom experiences a Midjourney-gate, too

Khushbu Shah   Global reporting will suffer

Sam Gregory   Synthetic media forces us to understand how media gets made

Martina Efeyini   Talk to Gen Z. They’re the experts of Gen Z.

Laura E. Davis   The year we embrace the robots — and ourselves

Jonas Kaiser   Rejecting the “free speech” frame

Peter Sterne   AI enters the newsroom

Eric Thurm   Journalists think of themselves as workers

Cari Nazeer and Emily Goligoski   News organizations step up their support for caregivers

Sarah Marshall   A web channel strategy won’t be enough

Anna Nirmala   News organizations get new structures

Sumi Aggarwal   Smart newsrooms will prioritize board development

J. Siguru Wahutu   American journalism reckons with its colonialist tendencies

Peter Bale   Rising costs force more digital innovation

Amethyst J. Davis   The slight of the great contraction

Nicholas Jackson   There will be launches — and we’ll keep doing the work

Brian Stelter   Finding new ways to reach news avoiders

Jessica Maddox   Journalists keep getting manipulated by internet culture

Dannagal G. Young   Stop rewarding elite performances of identity threat

Jacob L. Nelson   Despite it all, people will still want to be journalists

Upasna Gautam   Technology that performs at the speed of news

Wilson Liévano   Diaspora journalism takes the next step

Errin Haines   Journalists on the campaign trail mend trust with the public

Eric Ulken   Generative AI brings wrongness at scale

Anthony Nadler   Confronting media gerrymandering

Matt Rasnic   More newsroom workers turn to organized labor

Joanne McNeil   Facebook and the media kiss and make up

Anika Anand   Independent news businesses lead the way on healthy work cultures

Zizi Papacharissi   Platforms are over

Andrew Losowsky   Journalism realizes the replacement for Twitter is not a new Twitter

Sue Schardt   Toward a new poetics of journalism

Mario García   More newsrooms go mobile-first

Mariana Moura Santos   A woman who speaks is a woman who changes the world

Joshua P. Darr   Local to live, wire to wither

Shanté Cosme   The answer to “quiet quitting” is radical empathy

Kerri Hoffman   Podcasting goes local

Parker Molloy   We’ll reach new heights of moral panic

Megan Lucero and Shirish Kulkarni   The future of journalism is not you

Bill Adair   The year of the fact-check (no, really!)

Cory Bergman   The AI content flood

Josh Schwartz   The AI spammers are coming

Cassandra Etienne   Local news fellowships will help fight newsroom inequities

Gordon Crovitz   The year advertisers stop funding misinformation