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Tasteless! News Outlets Advertise Tragedy via Pay-Per-Click


After tragedy struck Virginia Tech, New York Times, The Washington Post and The First Post, a British online news magazine, created Google AdWords campaigns advertising the latest coverage. CNN and Fox News focused their advertising dollars on Yahoo. San Jose Mercury News features some of the pay-per-click ads running at the time of the tragedy in their article, “News outlets buy search engine ads to promote Virginia Tech shooting coverage.” Even now, news outlets such as, MSNBC and The First Post, are using Google AdWords to advertise their post coverage of the tragedy, citing the body count in their ad copy.

Pay-per-click in the past has been used to advertise goods and services, but now news outlets are using the Web to advertise the news. This recent development shows just how powerful search engine marketing has become to traditional media.

Last century when newspapers wanted to advertise the latest headlines to the mass public, they would hire newsboys to stand on the corner and shout out the latest headlines. But with the advent of pay-per-click advertising, news outlets no longer have to depend on young boys with strong voices, they have Google AdWords and Yahoo! Search Marketing (to name a few) at their beck and call.

Danny Sullivan, editor of the newsletter, points out a potential problem for news outlets that are using pay-per-click to advertise tragedy, “…can also leave you looking crass – that you’re tapping in for a business purpose on a tragedy…” And I have to agree with Danny. While pay-per-click is a powerful advertising tool, news outlets are walking a fine line between informing the public and putting tragedy up for sale.