Earned vs Bought media: Is it worth paying for a headline?


A media landscape dominated by digital is characterised by a lot of space, a lot of noise, and a lot of competition for air time. It’s tempting to consider paying for a headline… but is the cost worth it? We share our experience.  


A decade ago, if you were a company with legitimate news, it was relatively easy to secure media coverage. All you really needed was a clear and concise pitch delivered to the right publication, and to the right reporter. 

The news media landscape the world over looks a lot different today, thanks to the advent of digital. 

Now, there is less print media – a lot less.  

We couldn’t find a definitive statistic on just how many print mastheads have gone to their grave since 2010, but a Google search did turn up endless stories about newsroom closures, title mergers and job losses. Just 12 months ago News Corp, publisher of The Australian among other titles, announced that more than 100 local and regional newspapers were to become digital only or disappear entirely [1]. COVID greatly accelerated the shift of print news to online; Media researcher Gary Dickson has been tracking changes in news production and availability since January 2019, and says the majority of the 200 or so ‘contractions’ he’s recorded are a move from print to digital only content [2]. 

Dickson’s use of the word ‘contraction’ is fitting for the news landscape more broadly. With fewer news mastheads, there are fewer journalists to pitch stories to. The ‘journalist’ by trade might be close to extinction, with news ‘writers’ now also expected to be multimedia experts who can navigate a content management system and understand Search Engine Optimisation. The subject editor is a dying breed, replaced by online editors who specialise in generating web traffic (think click bait). Fewer articles are original, with content sourced globally and syndicated. The digital news model itself, with its sense of immediacy, means less time to produce content, and content has less currency, becoming irrelevant pretty quickly. And so it is that opportunities for ‘earned’ media (content developed by a third party that wasn’t paid for) across the infinite digital landscape are actually quite small.  

We get clever, creative and strategic to get media outcomes for our clients in this environment. 


The move from print to digital has also forced a change in the news media revenue model, which traditionally relied on selling ad space for a fee based on readership. 

Advertising via a print medium typically sees a company charged per the centimetres they’d like to occupy and where those centimetres are located. Print space is fixed, and the cost of occupying space is calculated on readership and circulation, both seen as relatively static numbers. The digital landscape, on the other hand, is vast, as is its circulation. Readership is dynamic, making digital ‘space’ hard to carve up. Also, unlike print, digital offers the ability to measure what companies are really paying for when they advertise – attention - in the form of click throughs and time spent on a page.  

Digital has also seen the rise of a great competitor for news media; ‘owned media’. Channels that are owned, such as websites, blogs and social media, gives a company the ability to develop their own audience and control their own news narrative. 

The vast and dynamic nature of digital, coupled with the proliferation of owned media has devalued the advertising space offered by news mediums, creating a revenue crisis for the news industry. And so, we see more and more news publications finding alternative revenue streams, including charging companies for editorial space. 

News media has been blurring the lines between advertising and editorial for decades – think the ‘advertorial’. However, these pieces were once buried on page 57 and clearly marked as paid content. Today, advertorials have been replaced by ‘native content’, which is basically a sponsored editorial designed to look and feel like unpaid content on that platform. It’s difficult these days to discern the paid from the unpaid. 

And news publishers everywhere – from The Australian Financial Review to Monocle – have embraced the concept.  

So, is it worth paying for news space? 

The answer, in our experience is: it depends on the publication, and the end-product. 

Some of the bigger, long-standing financial publications charge $10,000 - $15,000 for a sponsored editorial. These pieces take a lot of time to put together, outcomes aren’t guaranteed, and ‘paid for’ doesn’t necessarily equate to ‘full client control’. We have had content pulled at the last minute, not published on the date promised, or reduced from a full-length feature to a small mention in another article.  

On the other hand, there are a number of digital news platforms targeted purely to shareholders and prospective investors. These include ShareCafé, the Australian Shareholders’ Association (ASA) podcast, Boardroom Media, Stockhead, Finance News Network and Proactive Investors (all outlets we have a great relationship with, and who have not paid us to write this article!) 

We’ve found that the costs, ranging from $500 per content piece up to ~$15,000 for a year’s subscription, is often worth it. For one, we are able to directly reach the audience we want to speak to. Secondly, the content producers tend to have a solid understanding of markets. ShareCafé, for example, is run solely by investment and advice experts with up to 50 years’ experience.  

Whilst outcomes will vary for every business, we encourage companies to experiment with these options and consider the many ways they can package and repurpose the content through their own channels. Ask us how we can help. 


By Ilona Marchetta, Cherie Hartley and Gabriella Hold 


[1] The Guardian https://www.theguardian.com/media/2020/may/28/news-corp-announces-end-of-nearly-100-australian-print-newspapers-in-huge-shift-to-digital accessed 24 May 2021. 

[2] https://theconversation.com/local-news-sources-are-closing-across-australia-we-are-tracking-the-devastation-and-some-reasons-for-hope-139756