OJR 2007: How to sell your website without selling out

Violinist.com editor Laurie Niles was covering a story about the purchase of a $5.5 million violin when the seller asked if she accepted advertising on her site.

“When I was driving to meet this guy, I realized I was going to interview him and during the same conversation, I’d be telling him about advertising on my site.”

As an independent Web publisher, Niles [wife of OJR’s editor – Ed.] wears all the hats: owner, editor, sales rep and reporter.

She rhetorically asked OJR 2007 attendees, “Is this a huge breach of ethics?”

The majority response was no, although journalists who are learning Web publishing skills on the fly do need to strike the balance between brand promotion and editorial integrity.

“One of the things about a journalist as opposed to a business person is that journalists will always err on the side of caution,” says Paidcontent.org founder Rafat Ali. “The reality is that advertising is part of the conversation and the editor draws the line about how much it encroaches [the site].”

For Eric Ulken, managing editor for news at latimes.com, the line at larger, established news organizations is clear and distinct.

“To give you an example, I don’t know a single ad sales person for latimes.com,” Ulken says.

Attendees agree that indie publishers can also deliver good reporting and pay the bills.

“When you become a truly professional website you do sell ads, whether you’re doing it all yourself, 19th-century local publisher style, or you have sales reps doing it for you,” says OSTG editor-in-chief Robin Miller.

A plethora of resources are available for novice Web publishers who want to earn revenue. User-friendly ad services include Blog Ads, Google AdSense and Yahoo Publisher Network (Overture). Publishers also can use commission-based affiliate programs such as LinkShare, Amazon Associates and Commission Junction.

Niche sites often attract a highly targeted, coveted audience, so another way to earn revenue is to sell to advertisers directly. But you need to do some research first.

“Find out what you can about the demographics of the readers because you’re selling access to the readers,” says OJR.org editor Robert Niles. “That helps to take care of some of the ethical qualms, too. The advertiser doesn’t care what you have to say; they just want you to deliver some eyeballs to them.”

Indie publishers can gather this data through user surveys and free tools such Quantcast and Google Analytics — sites that will record who visits your site and how they get there.

As novice publishers sell advertising, knowing the site’s readership and gauging their tolerance level is crucial.

Laurie Niles says Violinist.com users let her know when a blinking banner interfered with her site’s usability, and she consequently removed the in-house ad marketing Violinist.com t-shirts. She also struck a compromise with an advertiser who requested a bold-colored blinking ad: she accepted the color, rejected the blink.

“You can be transparent in your advertising as much as you’re transparent in your editorializing,” she says.

About Sarah Colombo

Sarah is a recent graduate of USC's Annenberg School for Communication, where she obtained a Master of Arts in journalism. She served as the managing editor of OJR's news blog during the 2004-2005 academic year. She has also been published in a variety of online and print publications, including the Daily Breeze and Premiere magazine. Her professional interests include cultural affairs reporting, arts and entertainment and anything multimedia related.


  1. For Eric Ulken, managing editor for news at latimes.com, the line at larger, established news organizations is clear and distinct.

    “To give you an example, I don

  2. Or, just hit the advertiser over the head with your pitch:

    “I think I’ve been open about my affection for Dunkin Donuts,” said Mr. Simmons, who recently signed a multiyear contract to renew his relationship with ESPN. “One of my biggest regrets is not having them sign on [as a sponsor.]”


  3. Based on information from this session, as well as Rafat Ali’s, I’ve updated OJR’s wiki on earning money from your news website.

  4. It also helps to understand the types of metrics advertisers are going to expect. It’s not unusual for savvier ad folks to ask for weekly reports outlining — at minimum — impressions and click-thrus. A good ad server or ad server service can help with this.

  5. Alex Barner says:

    Creating a website to generate income online is one of the most common methods these days. You can earn money from a website by Search Engines