Advertisers want to reach the masses with their ads but do not want their ads connected to anything with even a whiff of controversy. This is very apparent when it comes to stories about race and racism. Vice Media Group found last June that its content about the George Floyd protests and Black Lives Matter was monetized at a 57 percent lower rate than other news content because of keyword blocking — when advertisers block their ads from appearing on articles that have certain words or phrases.
Marsha Cooke, Vice Media senior vice president of global news and special projects (and a Capital B board member), said in a presentation last year that an agency representing a large entertainment company sent Vice a keyword blocklist that included “Black people.” Try monetizing that as a Black publication.
In the case of YouTube, even if advertisers wanted to support this content, they couldn’t: An April investigation in the Markup uncovered Google’s curious practice of blocking advertisers from targeting social justice keywords and phrases, effectively preventing untold numbers of Black creators’ videos and channels from being discovered for monetization.
Most journalists I know didn’t get into the business to make a lot of money. We want to uncover truths and share them. We’re curious and tenacious. Ask many Black journalists why they’ve chosen this frustrating profession, and we’ll say that we want to tell the stories that wouldn’t get told if we weren’t there to tell them. This is one of the most important catalysts for change in America — people with this kind of drive wanting to do this kind of work.
This work requires serious investment. When Capital B launches in January, it won’t be ad free. We’re building an ad and sponsorship business with partners that are forward-thinking enough to understand that it’s meaningless to support Black-led media if you’re not willing to support journalism that moves the needle for Black people and that people want and need.
But there is no world in which we could finance an editorial vision like ours through advertising alone. We chose the nonprofit model because we know that the bulk of our revenue has to come from philanthropists, foundations and members who are interested in aligning their investments with their institutional and personal values, not brand safety.
Now that Ozy has proved to be too good to be true, marketers and investors should look around. To make an actual commitment to the cause they say they support, credible opportunities abound, such as Soledad O’Brien Productions, Sara Lomax-Reese and Mitra Kalita’s URL Media, Sherrell Dorsey’s The Plug and Word in Black, a coalition of Black newspapers. But this is America, which means it will never be 100 percent “safe” to support Black-led efforts to meaningfully inform and educate.
So maybe they’ll just wait for the next Ozy.