Unless you've just returned from Mars; you are probably aware that the newspaper business is dying. Television news isn't doing so hot, either.

I've been in journalism for 20 years and most of those years I have heard these very words over and over again. Now it seems to be coming true.

Major newspapers all over the country are folding (The Seattle Post Intelligencer, The Rocky Mountain News, to name a couple). The Boston Globe could very well be next with parent company, The New York Times, threatening to do just that if the paper's unions don't find 20 million dollars in cuts by May 1st.

Newspaper advertising, needless to say, is in the dumper. Classified ads have been eclipsed by Craig's List and other online options for selling that used double stroller or bass boat.

Online advertising has emerged as the darling of advertising for companies who want to make sure they're getting the maximum bang for the buck.

Traditional advertising, like newspapers and television, are measured (and I use the term loosely) by - ahem - imprecise methods. For television, Nielson ratings are all but pure voodoo. For advertisers, you have no idea how many people actually saw your commercial; much less acted upon it. With newspapers, there's a rough idea of circulation; but it's anyone's guess what readers actually read or what advertisements they actually glance at for more than a nanosecond.

Not exactly a reassuring metric is it? But for generations it was the only game in town.

The promise of web advertising is that advertisers can pay by the actual click on their ad, or number of times it's downloaded and viewed, or number of times there's a click through and purchase. Now those are metrics we can all hang out hat on, can't we?


Businesses, I think someday you will look back on this lost era of advertising options and mourn.

Here's why:

1. If you think Nielson ratings or circulation numbers are voodoo, how do you feel about "invisible ads"? This a popular scam being run on online advertisers. You pay for a banner ad by the number of times it is downloaded, for example. Online advertisers are actually able to program banner ads to download that are never seen. The code is triggered; but nothing actually reveals on the screen. One screen can literally display three or four banner ads, but download a hundred more invisibly. So much for rock solid metrics.

2. The water cooler metric. Every ad on the web is hitting a niche audience, so niche that you'll likely never hear about it around the so-called water cooler. Let me put it this way; how many times have you talked about a banner ad or a pop-up ad with your buddies in the Starbucks line? How many times have you talked about a Superbowl ad or started humming a commercial jingle only to have a friend with a silly grin join in, as well.

3. Accountability. We all know where to find our local newspaper or television station (if they still exist in your town) or even national network (starts with a "N" and ends in "York"). Do you know where to find all the web sites hosting your ads? If they punk you with programming Jedi mindtricks to boost the numbers, is there anyone working on your side that has a hope of figuring it out? What is your recourse going after a web site based in Bangladesh?

4. False counter ads. Can you imagine Coke running a commercial on NBC claiming Pepsi is poisoneous or Pampers running a full page ad in the Austin American Statesman claiming Huggies is owned by Al Queda? What's to protect your company from flagrantly innaccurate and damaging slander in the form of an anonymous ad popping up around the Internet?

All that aside, I do think the opportunities of online advertising outweigh the negative. But what about balance and having options? As sleazy as you may think all advertising is, believe me there are at least some standards among traditional media. Who will uphold that yardstick for others when they are gone?