Advertisers must accept their responsibility to continue funding journalism that plays a vital civic role – and their ROI shows it’s worth it.

That is the view of the man who runs a premium private marketplace jointly owned by some of America’s leading news publishers.

For news organizations, this year’s advertising outlook turned down thanks to a confluence of COVID-19, a charged political climate and ongoing competition from tech platforms.

In this video interview with Beet.TV, David Kohl, president and CEO of, TRUSTX, says ad buyers’ earlier “brand safety” fears have eased, and they have every reason to come back.

Need for news

“In the news environment, I think we are facing an existential crisis that I call truth decay. It’s really serious and it’s not going to suddenly fix itself,” Kohl says.

“So this is why I think that it’s really time for advertisers and agencies to lean in and begin to more actively support news.”

Kohl says 1,800 local news organizations have shut since 2004, with US newsrooms shedding 25% of staff in the last decade and social media platforms having emerged as the leading news distributors.

“That shit is scary,” Kohl says. But he uses statistics to show just how impactful advertising against news can be:

  • “Professional news reaches 95% of American families and 100% of this coveted 25 to 50 year old demographic.”
  • “News indexes highest against what we call super influencers, these are high-income, highly educated audiences that represent about $2.5 trillion in buying power.”
  • “Engagement with digital news has nearly doubled in the last three years, time spent is up 93% in that same period of time.”
  • “Comscore found that, when you advertise in these environments, your ads perform 300% better than in the open web.”

Buyers are coming back

Earlier this year, many ad buyers turned away from advertising against COVID-19 news stories, even whole news sites, fearing negative association.

Much research has since proved consumers do not form negative brand perceptions from such adjacencies.

That coincided with many publishers dropping subscription paywalls to entice an influx of new readers to convert to customers – what Kohl calls a “perfect storm” for revenue turbulence.

“We’re actually starting to see the dollars come back in,” says Kohl. “Coming to the end of May, June, and now through the summer, we’ve seen much higher sell through rates and even higher CPMs in news, which I think is really important and a really good sign.”

Publishers Fight Back: Meet TrustX, The Non-Profit Private Marketplace

Owned by publishers’ non-profit trade association Digital Content Next, which has strongly criticised ad-tech vendors and big digital platforms’ tactics alike, TRUSTX is a not-for-profit cooperative programmatic private marketplace, initially launched with a consortium of 35 premium US publishers.

TRUSTX has also plugged into MediaMath’s new marketplace for responsible, premium media environments. “That’s kind of like the easy button for advertisers, who want to immediately get access to professional brand safe news, without all the outside noise,” Kohl says.

Digital disruption

Disruption is all around. In society and business alike, norms are being challenged.

But a period of immense upheaval is also causing many to make the changes necessary to bring change that has long been called for.

Kohl spotlights the key changes being made to the fabric of digital advertising:

  • Deprecation of third party cookies and mobile IDs
  • New privacy regulations.
  • New revelations about fees and our supply chain
  • An organised boycott of Facebook

After the breakdown, introspection

“They’re individually big deals, but the disruption associated with the collision of them all, in such a short time span, I feel like it’s causing us to re-examine our values,” Kohl says, putting COVID-19 and racial injustice in the same melting pot of rapid change.

“Many of us in the industry are stepping back and asking ourselves, ‘Why?’ ‘Why are we advertising the way we do?’ ‘Why are we investing here, but not there?’ ‘Why are we following a certain playbook?’

“Those are good questions to ask. It’s good that this set of crises is forcing us to ask those questions because it’s beginning to surface a realization that the way we’ve been doing business for so long has actually been contributing to a breakdown in trust.”

You are watching a segment from a Beet.TV series titled Programmatic Buying: Accountability & Transparency in Focus presented by MediaMath.  For more videos from the series, please visit this page.