Guide to Advertising Technology

Watkins, Elizabeth Anne

Advertising technology has built a massive technical infrastructure. The technology and motivations of advertising undergird the economy of the internet. News sites are no exception. The information we seek about our world is underpinned with, and shaped by, advertising and its needs. Journalists need to know more about these technologies, how they work, and how they influence the practice, distribution, and perception of journalism.

Advertising technology may threaten the reputation and economic viability of news publishers in various ways. Ad tech promotes a specific type of audience engagement, and its incentive structures have been shown to alter how news gets produced, potentially undermining readers’ trust in publishers to provide objective coverage. Ad tech’s push of user data through opaque systems, and in some cases deposit malware onto readers’ devices, threatens reader privacy and safety and can further damage publishers’ reputations. The slow load times and distracting user experience of display ads can hamper the performance of news websites and drive readers towards walled information gardens like private apps and social-media platforms. This may siphon audiences away from professional journalism outlets and may render them more vulnerable to manipulative information operations, patterns which academics and policy-makers are only beginning to under- stand. Policies around advertising on social platforms threaten to blur the line between news and political messaging, and may incentivize so-called “influencers” to bypass publishers entirely and create their own content. Search-engine companies, meanwhile, have been accused of exploiting their power over how users find and access information.

In producing this report we were driven by a set of questions, including: What’s the relationship between news publishers and advertisers? What’s
changing? What’s contested? And how does the contemporary arrangement of advertising, writers, readers, and devices influence the news?


More About This Work

Academic Units
Tow Center for Digital Journalism
Tow Center for Digital Journalism, Columbia University
Tow Center for Digital Journalism Publications
Published Here
September 26, 2019