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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Media executives are ramping up the public pressure on companies to invest in advertising against quality news.

Between the lines: It's one of the biggest complaints news publishers have privately mentioned to Axios over the past year.

  • While the the Trump presidency was at first seen as a boon to news companies, media executives now call it a growing liability to their ad businesses.

Why it matters: News content can be tricky for advertisers to navigate, but media executives argue that it's possible — and beneficial — for advertisers to figure out how to engage quality news with their dollars.

  • Group Nine CEO Ben Lerer told Axios on stage at AdExchanger's Industry preview conference last week: "I just think right now we have such a divided country that — I just think that a lot of big brands are incredibly cowardly and want to, sort of, upset no one and actually they are doing themselves a massive disservice ... in the long-term."
  • Pam Wasserstein, President of Vox Media, told Axios on stage at the same event. ""Part of our position in the world (as a news company) is that we are at the center of a cultural conversation ... Being part of that conversation with an urgent, differentiated voice is what helps connect audiences and what helps ultimately advertisers be relevant."
  • Buzzfeed CEO Jonah Peretti told Axios at a conference in California last year while unveiling his plan to "unbreak the internet" that more pressure needs to be put on advertisers to pull their dollars from toxic content. "You see again and again the platforms will take action when brands put pressure on them."
  • Vice Media executives called out brands directly at its "newfront" digital media event for advertisers last year for using blacklists to discriminate against words like "pregnant," "Jewish" and "gay."

The big picture: For years, advertisers have used blacklists, or a list of words that appear in stories that they refuse to run ads around, to stop their ads from ending up next to incendiary content.

  • Those blacklists caused U.S. publishers to lose $2.8 billion in revenue in 2019, according to a study from Merrick School of Business at the University of Baltimore in the U.S. and ad tech company. CHEQ
  • Just 9 of the most 100 most-read news articles from 2019 were considered brand safe by keywords blacklists, per the study.
  • Often many words are blocked in fear of one meaning, but then are misapplied. For example, words like "attack" are often included in blacklists, even it it pertains to something positive, like an "attack wing" in soccer.

Yes, but: Some advertisers still see news as one of the few content areas that can engage certain audiences, particularly opinion leaders and high-end consumers.

  • “News is an environment where we find the audience that we want to engage," Lou Paskalis, the SVP of Customer Engagement and Investment at Bank of America told me last October at the Twitter News Summit.
  • "Thirty cents of every dollar I spend in digital is in news. So it's an absolutely vital advertising platform.”

Go deeper

Updated 20 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Inauguration Day dashboard

Screenshot: Fox News

President Trump has delivered a farewell speech and departed Washington for the last time on Air Force One, kicking off the day that will culminate with President-elect Joe Biden taking office.

What's next: The inaugural celebration for young Americans is being livestreamed, starting at 10am.

Updated 36 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Trump departs on final Air Force One flight

President Trump and his family took off on Air Force One at 9 a.m. on Wednesday morning for the final time en route to Florida.

The big picture: Trump's final hours as president were punctuated by his decisions to snub his successor's inauguration and grant pardons to many of his allies who have been swept up in corruption scandals.

Dion Rabouin, author of Markets
2 hours ago - Economy & Business

Janet Yellen said all the right things to reassure the markets

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Treasury Secretary nominee and former Fed chair Janet Yellen's confirmation hearing before the Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday showed markets just what they can expect from the administration of President-elect Joe Biden: more of what they got under President Trump — at least for now.

What it means: Investors and big companies reaped the benefits of ultralow U.S. interest rates and low taxes for most of Trump's term as well as significant increases in government spending, even before the coronavirus pandemic.