Is Google AdSense Destroying Hard-Hitting Investigative Journalism?

from the putting-woodward-and-bernstein-out-of-business dept

There have been stories about how Google’s AdSense contextual advertising program has helped contribute to the clogging of search engines with useless pages designed only to generate AdSense clicks — but now some are questioning if AdSense policies are harming journalism. Specifically, Google has always been careful to replace contextual ads with “public service announcements” (the dreaded “PSAs” to AdSense publishers) whenever the contextualizing system believes the content is too racy (evil?) to be associated with Google. However, as Romenesko points out, that means some more hard-hitting journalism pieces may trigger the PSA switch — thereby killing off plenty of potential revenue. The fear is that reporters (or publishers) will start writing to satisfy Google AdSense, rather than their audience. Of course, that seems short-sighted. Most writers aren’t so focused on the specific ads that will show — and if they are, their content probably suffers for it. By providing consistently good content (even if some of it pulls PSAs), it’s likely that a news site will get more overall traffic in the long run for all of its articles.

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “Is Google AdSense Destroying Hard-Hitting Investigative Journalism?”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
Topher3105 (profile) says:


What is worse is when you have an article or review slamming a product or something like a movie, but then Google AdSense happily advertises the product along side the article.

Google really needs to learn that if you put the words crap in the same sentence as product X, you really shouldn’t be advertising product X, your not getting a sympathetic audience at that point.

Dave says:

This isn't new

There has always been a tension between the publisher and the editor. The editor wants to cover the topics that readers care about. The publisher wants to make money. Sometimes those two are in sync and sometimes they aren’t.

Why did the fashion and glamour magazines stay silent for nearly 30 years about the dangers of smoking, even as they covered other health and diet issues regularly? Because they didn’t want to lose cigarette advertising. Why do newspapers nearly ignore supermarket issues like genetically modified foods and the privacy risks of shopper cards? Because supermarkets are the number one advertiser in most daily papers. These “make money or make readers happy” issues have been around for a while.

Really, though, it comes down to the integrity of the publication. On this page I see Google Adwords ads. Should I be worried that Mike will pick stories to pump up the revenue? I don’t see any signs of bias at this point.

Yet another Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Every once in a while, you miss the story

This is NOT an issue about AdSense. This is about the fundamentals of journalism. I may be a blue dot in a red state (aka the voice crying out in the wilderness), but there is a more fundamental issue here.

The EVIL here is a journalist writing a article to make money. Edwin R Murrow would be rotating in his grave at 10,000 RPM. What ever happened to honest journalism? Nowdays the purpose of a network newscast is the make money. It got so profitiable that Ted Turnner made an entire channel out of it (then a brief battle made that channel profitable).

All the other outlets are doing the same – targeting money. They think journalism was born yellow. No, that is a disease and is not normal.

Please, just present the news for news sake, well written and honest. If your employer doesn’t want that, please – if you can – find another job.

TechDirt is an opinion site about news, and I think you got it wrong this time.

Neal says:

Re: Every once in a while, you miss the story

What does being a Dem have to do with this article or your post? Maybe you mean that you are a distant star that used to burn blue and now you are in a state of supernova and are burning red. That has much more to do with this article.

This is how I would write a story:

In Lebanon today 15 Isreali troops…blah, blah, blah…for the time being. Target Target Target Target Target Target Target Target Target Target Target Target Target Target Target Target Target Target Target Target Target Target Target Target Target Target Target Target Target Target Target Target Target Target Target Target Target Target Target Target Target Target Target Target Target

Jamie says:

Re: Every once in a while, you miss the story

Since when has News (whether Paper, TV, or Internet) not been about making money? And why is it evil for a journalist to want to make money. Journalism is a job. The goal of that job is to sell news to make money. Since the real goal is to sell news, not to report it, then the journalist is going to do what he can to sell news. If he/she is honest, all that will mean is that the stories that are covered are the ones that are more likely to sell. If he/she is not honest, then he/she will twist or change the story to reflect what the buyer wants to read. Either way, the object is to sell news.

I personally would rather buy (either via ads I look at, or access I pay for) impartial news. Most people, even though they say not, would rather “buy” news that is biased towards their own point of view. So the majority of news organizations cater towards them.

If you think journalism was ever about “news for news sake” you are delusional. Journalism has always been about selling news for money.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Every once in a while, you miss the story

The only thing you forget is that even journalists have to live out of something – you can hardly live without money these days 🙂 so EVERY job on this planet is (more or less) about money (or power, being substitute to each other). To write just for “real truth”, “fun” or “the big idea” is for students, living out of their parent’s money, not for moms and dads …

Mike says:

Re: Re: Every once in a while, you miss the story

No doubt everyone needs to make a living. But journalism parallels artists or doctors in that if they go beyond what they really think is the correct approach, they violated ethics.

For example, nothing wrong with a painter making money on his work. However, if they have a concept in mind, then change their concept so that they have a chance of selling the art for more, then I believe they violated ethics. The same with a doctor. As soon as they order extra tests in order to make additional profit, they have violated ethics.

Most or all professions have some sort of ethics associated with them. Some are more serious (politicians, doctors, law enforcement), others get off lighter (I’m a programmer, and I feel my ethics are to develop the best code I can and to report any problems I see). Hopefully everyone can get really rich within these bounds, but once you step outside the bounds you’ve crossed the line.

So I think a journalist who changes a story (that I assumed they believed in) to increase the value of it or the chance of selling it is crossing that line.

Mike (profile) says:

Re: You Tell me Mike

Become your own example: Does this site intentionally censor itself to achieve the optimum adsense results?

Hell no. We don’t care at all.

As the post clearly states, it’s stupid to do so. Censoring what you write about for the sake of ads means you have worse content, and that will have a larger impact than the impact on a single story.

Rick says:

Incredibly Stupid Analysis

As several commentors and any intelligent AdSense webmaster/blogger laready know, Google is not going to kill journalism. Online news is far different than traditional print media. They aren’t ‘tied’ to the ad revenue from the supermarket circulars or cigarette and liquor ads to generate revenue. If they were, the bia would be blatant and there would be an equal drop in traffic, which is what really drives online revenue. The availability of a far greater multitude of advertisers builds on the traffic available, not the paying subscriber base. If anything Google is more apt to be directing the revenue generating traffic to the sites, controversial subject or not…

AdSense may avoid ads on controversial topics, but web publishers know this as a fact. PSA ads are OPTIONAL with AdSense, not mandatory or forced. Any publisher can easily generate their own alternate ads if Google won’t serve one on that ‘controversial’ page – if they don’t they shouldn’t consider themselves an effective online publisher, and it’s their fault and choice. If they hold back or write specifically for AdSense ads, the readers will notice it and leave, most likely for good. Less traffic means far less revenue, especially in this long tail age of journalism.

It would cost them more in the long term than any short term gain.

Anonymous Coward says:

How about tailoring a story for fear of the Hizbollah terrorists that are forcing you to take pictures of what they tell you take pictures of? Or how about selectively reporting a story to purposefully drive your personal political agenda?

Journalism in general is NOT an objective source of information. All you need is half a brain to see how “reporting” is completely colored through the eyes of the “journalist.” I can’t tell the difference between the front page of the NY Times and its editorial page.

CG says:

the bad think about page rankings

David sees what WT doesnt. The people who place ads are writing false, useless pages in order for those pages to come up in a Google search and then -hopefully- make their ad/s pop up on google. It’s an indirect way of getting the ads to pop up through AdSense, the pages dont really count but there are a lot of them.

SEO, ie designing and supporting a page or site so that the search engines know that it is valuable and known is a fine art. ANd again and again the search engines find the cheaters and take their status, and all theri hard work, away.

–SEO is optimizing your stuff, that’s the O–

I learned this from my friends who worked for one of the biggies and jumped ship because he wanted to do a better job than he was allowed to do. You know, geek-taste, to do it really right. That’s what you get when you are the boss or branding and seo - is his splash at setting the kind of ethical climate that YaYC, Jamie and Mike are talking about.

NC on the PSA switch. OK one, remember that users on google usually/often have the 3-way switch set for not-explicit. Half the internet is porn and if I am interested I will flip the switch. Normally the distraction just lowers the signal to noise ration and makes everything take longer. So that covers all of it.

Anonymous Coward says:

its obvious there is very little truly objective journalism in the media whore business and we are talking mainstream not some journalism on the sidelines… and for editorials, those can be also bought as a matter of fact a major media conglomerate not to mention names here pitches that to its big budget advertisers to sweeten up the deal.

Keyworder says:

So that's the plan

So now we’re to believe that more sites will be writing about mesothelioma, spyware, payday loans, auto loans, debt consolidation, cheap hotels, cheap airfares, and concert tickets because that’s where the PPC money is? Or maybe they’ll just pay people to type those high-priced keywords into blog comments. Like this.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: So that's the plan

absolutely, for each one of those “keywords” as a writer/blogger or whatever you can come with multiple ideas where to focus your article, as a writer you write about issues in society weighing where you are gonna get a significant amount of readership interest and now you can couple that to its ad monetization potential and there are thousands and thousands of keywords with potential to write about anything you desire

Cheeses of Nazareth says:

How much real journalism happens on pages where Google ads appear anyway? Sure, this might deprive the blogging halfwits of a few cents a week; but anyone who’s writing anything worth reading generally has an actual job, in which case they get paid actual money. Whingeing about the fact that your oafish, self-indulgent observations about the world no longer generate the cost of your annual Adult Friend Finder subscription isn’t really doing much to persuade me that you’re actually producing anything worthy of being called journalism.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...