An Expanding, Evolving Media Universe
The ever-expanding, ever-evolving
media universe offers a wealth of sources of information about the
presidential campaign. As a news consumer you should try to avail
yourself of a number of
sources, including from time to time some you might not normally look
at. Read, view or listen with a critical eye and ear and consider
the story portrays the reality of a situation or event.
Be a Discerning News Consumer
about where you get your news and information from. There's a lot
of it out
One can turn to the wire services, the networks, cable TV, local TV,
radio ranging from NPR to conservative talk radio, newspapers, news
magazines, opinion magazines, Internet-only news
organizations, social media, and individual or group blogs.
editorial side of a particular news organization may encompass a wide
talent, including general assignment reporters, beat reporters,
editors, producers, photographers, videographers, columnists, feature
writers, and maybe even an editorial
cartoonist. The media are
diverse. Conservative talk radio presents a very different
picture of the world than do mainstream media outlets such as the New
York Times or the Washington
Post than does Joe or Jill's blog.
the quality and quantity of news and election coverage a news outlet
presents are the available resources (financial, talent, equipment, and
commitment), the needs of advertisers and the audience, established
practices, habits and conventions, the peculiarities of individual
and technology. Thus a local newspaper has a set of strengths and
weaknesses that differ from those of a major network.
The Evolving Media Universe Has Inflicted
"Tectonic" Changes on Traditional Media with Consequences for the
Functioning of Our Democracy
In the old days, people typically turned to
television, radio, a newspaper or a magazine for news about the
campaign. On a television network, for example, information is
packaged in a variety of
ways; there are the flagship evening newscasts, morning shows,
programs, Sunday morning newsmaker programs, occasional specials, and
forth. Similarly, in a newspaper one finds hard news articles,
analysis, long features, lighter, "Style"-type pieces, photographs,
editorials, and editorial cartoons.
Now, the Internet allows
any motivated individual to become a publisher. While some blogs
are first-rate, and on top of their subject matter, others don't
much beyond echoing what is already out there. In this
information age, stories are linked to and repeated, rapidly
circulate in social media and the blogosphere, and are minutely sliced
Buzz abounds. A story may garner headlines but ultimately amount
to little more than a "tempest in a teapot," while another story of
lasting significance receives scant attention. Readers and
viewers must assess the veracity of a story as well as its
In a Feb. 4, 2016 report (>), the Pew Research Center found that television remained the top way people learned about the presidential election (78%), followed by digital (65%), radio (44%) and print newspapers (36%). Further, according to Pew, more than a third of 18- to 29-year olds found social media "the most helpful source for learning about the presidential election."
The Pew Research Center's "The State of the News Media 2016" describes "tectonic shifts taking place." The Internet has driven much of the change in the news media environment over the past two decades, and has greatly facilitated the proliferation of information. There are numerous Internet-only news organizations in addition to strong, integral online presences developed by traditional news organizations. Many popular sources of news and information are relatively recent arrivals, and new players such as First Look Media and Vox.com are trying to find their niches. Yet "The State of the News Media 2016" notes, "It has been evident for several years that the financial realities of the web are not friendly to news entities, whether legacy or digital only."
Print media in particular have been hit by a loss of
Over the past decade-plus,
established news organizations have had to significantly pare back on
their reporting resources. "The State of the News Media 2016"
reports, "The latest newspaper newsroom employment figures (from 2014)
declines, greater than in any year since 2009, leaving a workforce that
is 20,000 positions smaller than 20 years prior. And the cuts keep
coming..." Pew's report put full-time newsroom employment at
nearly 33,000, the peak was in 2000. Magazines have
experienced declines in ad pages and issues at newstands.
Local television has also undergone significant
changes. "The State of the
News Media 2014" noted that, "Local television, which reaches about
in ten U.S. adults, experienced massive change in 2013, change that
stayed under the radar of most." According to the report, "Nearly
300 full-power local TV stations changed hands in 2013 at a price of
more than $8 billion."
As more and more people acquire their information from the screen of a smartphone or other device, news organizations must present information across different platforms and in different forms. They must develop content for Facebook, Twitter and other social media, and they produce versions for mobile devices ranging from smartphones to iPads and other tablets.
conclusions of "The
2012," a special report in "The State of the
News Media," is that "at a
time of diminishing reporting resources, many newsmakers, in
political, public and corporate life, are finding new ways to get their
messages to the public—often with little or no journalistic
vetting." Social media
as Facebook and Twitter came of age as a source of political
information during the 2012 campaign. In 2016, Donald Trump's use
of Twitter was a central part of his campaign. There was no need
for media middlemen as voters could go direct to the source, but the
picture thus gleaned would be very skewed. The picture is not all
bad, of course. Tweets from reporters covering the candidates and
campaigns provide a
interested voters with immediate, timely accounts. While
the danger they may contribute to a more misinformed
public by magnifying the phenomenon of
fake news (+).
Not only is fake news a problem, but during the 2016 presidential campaign there was shockingly less real news, at least in terms of reporting on the issues. The Tyndall Report looked at network news coverage and concluded in an Oct. 24, 2016 post, "With just two weeks to go, issues coverage this year has been virtually non-existent (>)." The progressive Media Matters for America noted, "It seems clear that the media’s abandonment of issues coverage benefits Trump since his campaign has done very little to outline the candidate’s core beliefs. Clinton, by contrast, has done the opposite (>)." (See also: Kevin Bowe's film Democracy Through the Looking Glass. >)
Depending on the ideological biases of the publisher and the editorial staff, information may also be slanted toward or against various viewpoints. (See Media Research Center and Media Matters for America). FOX News has been described as "the right-wing echo chamber." Conservative talk show hosts such as Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity likewise talk to the conservative base. Meanwhile, conservatives deride the mainstream media for presenting a one-side picture of events. Charges of liberal or conservative bias attract attention, but there are other biases. Donald Trump's over-the-top style and pronouncements have been a magnet for media attention, while other candidates such as Bernie Sanders complained about a lack of coverage (+). Top tier major party candidates are guaranteed coverage, even of their trivial activities, while longshot or third party candidates typically have a hard time getting coverage. A major underlying bias at almost any news organization is simply limited resources.
From a Campaign's Point of View
The proliferation of media presents both a challenge
and an opportunity
for campaigns as they seek to communicate their messages. They
must be able to assess and respond to requests from national political
reporters as well as local bloggers. Some interviewers throw
softballs and others curves. Campaigns not only reach out to the
news media through traditional
press staff, they have new media staff producing information, graphics,
videos that supporters
will spread to friends and acquaintances through social media.
Organization and Focus
A campaign unfolds along a fixed chronological path, with clear markers along the way, and there are only so many approaches a news organization can take in covering it. There are, however, huge differences in the quality and consistency of campaign and election coverage.
For many news
the election may not be a major focus until Election Day
Stories about the campaign appear haphazardly here and there. A
organization can help its readers or viewers better understand the
if it provides some order to its coverage, for example by running its
stories in a consistent place or on specific days of the week and by
a recognizable graphic to draw attention to them. Regular series
of articles can also helpful.
At different stages in the campaign, some news organizations will run in-depth profiles of the major candidates. A first set of candidate profiles typically appears early in the campaign, perhaps in the summer or a couple of months before the Iowa and New Hampshire contests. After the primaries are over, heading into the conventions, the soon-to-be nominees are profiled again. Finally, toward the close of the fall campaign, some news organizations may run a final profile. A noteworthy example from television is Frontline's "The Choice." Writing or producing a candidate profile is a real art. Consider what anecdote is used to begin the profile, who among the candidate's realm of acquaintances is interviewed, what images are used, and how well the profile captures the essence of the subject.
It is relatively easy to report on campaign strategies and tactics, daily charges and countercharges and the latest poll results. More difficult is the task of explaining "the issues" in a fresh and understandable way. To untangle complex problems such as retirement security or tax policy, to lay out the candidates' proposals for addressing them, and to make it all relevant requires a great deal of research and thought from the reporter. Even after all that work, readers may, given human nature, skip over the well-written story on trade policy to find out about the most recent candidate controversy.
The media are firmly
to polls and devote substantial resources to conducting them.
reporters argue that polling data can suggest stories and provide
useful insights. For
if poll numbers show a candidate is weak among particular demographic
the reporter might do a story about why this is so. Sometimes
it seems that reporting poll numbers is a substitute for providing
of complex issues. Horserace coverage adds nothing to
of the candidates and issues.
Looking at the polling results, the national polls
came fairly close to predicting the outcome in terms of Clinton winning
the popular vote, but there were problems with state polls, which were
off significantly in many cases. The bottom line, as noted in a
Nov. 9, 2016 press release from the American
Association for Public Opinion Research, was,
"The polls clearly got it wrong this time and Donald J. Trump is the
projected winner in the Electoral College." In May 2017 AAPOR
issued an excellent report which found, "National polls were actually
accurate. But at the state level, the poll errors were quite
large." In particular the report notes an underestimation of
support for Trump in the upper Midwest. The report cites "real
late change in voter preference [to Trump] and the failure of
many polls to adjust their weights for the over-representation of
college graduates, who tended to favor Clinton in key states.” The
report also devotes considerable attention to addressing the "Shy
Trump" hypothesis, but finds no evidence to support it.
AAPOR - An Evaluation of 2016 Election Polls in the United States (May 4, 2017).
See also: www.PollingReport.com-2016
One important function of the media is to attempt to
reign in politicians' and campaigns' tendency to bend or distort the
Examples include Glenn Kessler's "Fact Checker" blog at The Washington Post and
FactCheck.org, a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the
University of Pennsylvania. Many news organizations also run
ad watches. These analyze the accuracy and fairness of
claims and may provide broader information about where an ad fits in a
campaign's strategy. Ad watches have generally had a positive
Campaigns now release their ads with documented fact sheets.
in the case of emotion-tugging "feel good" ads, doing an ad watch may
be comparable to trying to dissect a soap bubble.
On the Scene
In the fall, the major
party campaigns have typically instituted a "protective pool"
arrangement to ensure that reporters will be on hand to cover any
activities by the candidate. The same kind of arrangement is in
to cover the President at the White House. The protective
typically includes wire reporters, a wire
photographer, a TV crew (rotation among ABC, CBS, CNN,
FOX and NBC), and a newspaper print reporter. In 2016 the lack of
a protective pool was a source of considerable friction between the
campaigns and news organizations (+).
11 and was
wisked away, the media were kept in the dark as to her whereabouts.
Media on Media
A number of news organizations have writers or reporters who focus specifically on media, or even on media and politics. This type of reporting can be quite enlightening, reminding the audience that news presents only a version of reality; it is the product of many individuals' efforts and perceptions. As another example, some newspapers have a weekly "Magazine Reader" type section which draws attention to feature articles; this can be an invaluable service for busy readers.
In the closing month
the campaign, many newspapers make endorsements. One of the most
astounding aspects of the 2016 general election campaign was the
unprecedented and overwhelming number of newspaper editorials favoring
Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. Wikipedia found that Hillary
Clinton received endorsements of 243 dailies and 148 weeklies compared
to 20 dailies and 6 weeklies for Trump (>).
but at the presidential level they clealy do not have much
That is not to say a newspaper endorsement has no effect. When
are striving for credibility in the pre-primary period or the early
or seeking to persuade swing voters in the fall a newspaper endorsement
may count for something. A newspaper's endorsement is generally
by the editorial board, although sometimes the publisher may weigh
Some newspapers have a policy of not making endorsements, at least at
presidential level. Examining the reasoning used in various
endorsements can offer clear insights into the candidates' strengths
Just as campaigns vie for support from voters, news organizations seek to gain loyalty of viewers, readers and surfers. Promos in their own pages or broadcasts, or ads placed in other media highlight programming and news personalities and establish brand identity.
Many Other Aspects
There are many other aspects of campaign coverage to consider. As an exercise, take a specific campaign event, such as a speech or a rally, and compare how a number of different news organizations cover it.
Examples of Changes Big and Small in the
Changes big and small, including startups, mergers and
shutdowns, continue to reshape the
industry. Some examples of activity following the 2012 campaign
and leading into the 2016 campaign:
- On Mar. 6, 2013 Time Warner Inc. announced it would
separate Time Inc. from the company, making it an independent,
publically traded company by the end of the year. (+).
- Herring Networks, Inc. launched a new conservative
cable news channel, One America News Network (OAN), on July 4, 2013 (+).
- On Aug. 5, 2013 The Washington Post Company anounced
it would sell its newspaper publishing business to Amazon.com founder
and CEO Jeff Bezos (+).
- Fusion, "a joint venture news and lifestyle network for U.S. Hispanics," launched Oct. 28, 2013; plans for the network were first announced in Feb. 2013 (+).
- In late Oct. 2013 Pierre Omidyar, founder and
chairman of eBay, started looking into building a news organization
"based on the belief that democracy depends on a citizenry that is
highly informed and deeply engaged in the issues that affect their
lives." NewCo, which became First Look Media, started with the
online magazine The Intercept.
on a second
digital magazine, Racket,
designed to take a satirical approach to American
politics, but he left in Oct. 2014, and his staff was let go.
- POLITICO launched a magazine in Nov. 2013. In
addition to the online edition, print magazines are being published six
times a year (+).
- In Jan. 2014 AOL Inc. and Hale Global announced an
agreement to re-launch Patch, the local news and information network (+).
- Newsweek, which ceased
publication of its
print magazine at the end of 2012, was acquired by IBT Media in Aug.
2013. IBT Media assumed control in Oct. 2013 and relaunched the
print edition on March 7, 2014 (+).
- In Jan. 2014 Ezra Klein, author of The Washington Post's popular WonkBlog column, and several others left; on April 6, 2014 they launched Vox.com, a new brand, at online publisher Vox Media.
- In May 2014 Bloomberg announced a new brand, Bloomberg Politics,
to be "created, launched, and overseen by Mark Halperin and John
Heilemann;" Bloomberg Politics launched on Oct. 6, 2014 (+).
- In June 2014 ABC News launched on Apple TV (+).
- The New Republic
celebrated its 100th anniversary on Nov. 19, 2014. However,
little more than two weeks later, the liberal magazine suffered a mass
exodus of talent unhappy with the leadership of publisher Chris Hughes,
the Facebook co-founder who took over the magazine in March
- In Nov. 2014 CBS launched CBSN "the first
digital streaming news network that will allow
Internet-connected consumers to watch live, anchored news coverage on
their connected TV and other devices (+)."
- Independent Journal Review,
- In Aug. 2015 NBCUniversal announced strategic investments in
Buzzfeed and Vox Media (+).
- After 46 years National Journal ended publication of its magazine at the end of 2015 in favor of membership services and daily news (+).
- In Oct. 2015 Gannett announced it would acquire Journal Media Group; the merger was completed in April 2016 (+).
- NowThis, a "social video news company" launched in 2012, seemed to
be gaining traction. A spokesman stated, "We create 60+ pieces of
video content a day and distribute these videos
across Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter and other social
platforms. We aim to inform a social+mobile audience about the issues
that matter in their lives."
- In Jan. 2016, in the middle of the presidential campiang, Politico
founder and pubisher Robert Allbritton reported that top figures at the
news site including co-founder Jim VandeHei and Playbook's Mike Allen
would be leaving.
April and Allen
- In June 2016 Tribune Publishing Co., which publishes such
newspapers as the Chicago Tribune,
Los Angeles Times and Orlando Sentinel, annouced it was
rebranding as tronc, Inc., "a content curation and monetization company
focused on creating and distributing premium, verified content across
all channels." (+)
- In Sept. 2016 the Newspaper Association of America changed its name to News Media Alliance (+).
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