Oct 27 (Reuters) - In the days leading up to what is
expected to be a chaotic U.S. presidential election, publishers
are using new software tools to analyze their news coverage in
order to make advertisers more comfortable with placing ads on
stories that could be deemed too controversial.
Aiming to avoid a repeat of earlier this year, when news
publishers lost an estimated $1.3 billion in ad revenue due to
companies pulling ads from stories about the pandemic, major
news organizations are using software and human moderators to
lure advertisers back.
Gannetts USA Today, News Corps Dow Jones
and other publishers contacted by Reuters said they are
expecting an increase in companies blocking ads from
election-related stories before and after Election Day on Nov.
Given whats happening right now and what we know, it will
be a challenging time in the news between now and whenever (the
election) ends, said Paul Tsigrikes, head of marketing at the
Wall Street Journal and Barrons Group, which are units of Dow
Publishers are working to limit the impact of
keyword-blocking software that prevents ads from showing up on
pages with terms viewed as unsuitable by some advertisers,
including "shooting," "dead," "coronavirus," "Black Lives
Matter" and "protest."
In a demonstration of how encompassing such keyword lists
can be, one publisher showed Reuters a list of nearly 2,000
terms from a major Fortune 500 advertiser that included commonly
used terms in news coverage such as Donald Trump and Rudy
Giuliani and other terms referring to violence including Paris
attack and "Yom Kippur shooting."
These lists, which are now common among advertisers and
publishers, would prevent most ads from appearing on
election-related coverage, the publisher source told Reuters.
Dow Jones said it is pitching its tool called SafeSuite in
"every single meeting" with advertisers. The software helps
determine whether an article is considered to have a positive or
negative slant, and if the content is suitable next to a brand's
The tool uses a mix of artificial intelligence to understand
the meaning of the words in a story, and manual scoring of the
articles to determine if it is suitable for a brand's ad, the
Advertisers have long worried about inappropriate ad
placements -- an airline ad next to stories about plane crashes,
for instance, because digital ad placement is largely determined
by tech systems rather than humans.
To avoid this, advertisers have relied on services from ad
tech firms like Integral Ad Science (IAS) and DoubleVerify that
let advertisers block ads based on words and phrases on pages or
In August, IAS launched a product called Context Control,
which uses semantic technology that determines whether an
article has a positive or negative emotion associated with it.
IAS said the technology could also better determine nuances
in words and block stories on pages with words like gunshot
but not on pages with phrases like basketball shot.
PUBLISHERS FIGHT BACK
More recently, publishers have built their own tools that
use artificial intelligence and machine learning to determine
the sentiment of articles.
In some cases, sentiment analysis tools built by publishers
have worked better than ones offered by outside ad tech
companies like IAS and DoubleVerify.
The third-party tools were sometimes found to block more ad
inventory than necessary compared to publisher tools, said
Joshua Lowcock, chief digital and innovation officer at ad
The best person to tell you about the content is the person
who owns the content, he added.
Fine tuning these sentiment analysis tools is one crucial
aspect to protecting the bottom lines of publishers while still
protecting advertisers during chaotic news cycles.
Education also plays a vital role. USA Todays ad sales team
is reaching out to advertisers to explain the benefits of
advertising on news, as well as make them aware of softer
election coverage like stories that include local voting
information, Michael Kuntz, chief operating officer of USA Today
Dow Jones' ad sales team is also working with the brands to
narrow down the keyword lists, said Erin Laughlin, product
director of advertising at Dow Jones.
A Dow Jones advertising group that produces custom ad
campaigns and sponsored content is seeing increased interest,
Tsigrikes said. Advertisers often see such content as brand safe
because it is produced in close collaboration with the news
"There's a lot of anxiety about (the aftermath of) the
election, because obviously there could be a lot of craziness,"
said David Chavern, CEO of news organization trade group News
Media Alliance. "We don't want keyword blocks to start hitting
legitimate coverage of that controversy."
(Reporting by Sheila Dang in Dallas; editing by Kenneth Li and