The Context In Which Political Reporting Occurs

Journalists can talk about editorial-advertising divides all they want, but it’s hard to believe this isn’t a serious consideration in editorial decisions (boldface mine):

As local television outlets prepared their business plans about a year ago, they had reason to believe they were in for another gangbuster election year with supposed nominees Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton and related SuperPACs ready to open their wallets in battleground Virginia.

Revenues were trending upward in recent presidential election years. Two weeks before the 2012 election, total political ads aired had already surpassed 2008 and 2004 numbers, according to the Wesleyan Media Project, even though the ads appeared in fewer media markets than previous cycles. The Washington D.C. media market benefited from the concentration, with the sixth most TV ads by volume.

But now, the landscape looks bleaker for the same outlets who did so well in 2012…

Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, who has already spent more than $77 million on television and radio ads, dropped Virginia from her ad buy in early August, confirming later that the campaign won’t air ads in the state in September or October. This follows a major Clinton SuperPAC, Priorities USA, deciding to suspend ads in Virginia, as well as Colorado and Pennsylvania, until at least September 20….

Add in the fact that there are no senate or gubernatorial races this cycle in Old Dominion, and local news outlets are facing what Georgetown media professor Christopher Chambers calls “a three-pronged monster.”

They’re going to lose out on a significant amount of revenue,” says Chambers. “This is a time when they’re really counting on [political ads] to bump them up.”

Certain stories sell, others not so much. While they might not be under a Roger Ailes-like control freak, decisions about what readers and viewers do and do not want–or more accurately, what those who control news organizations believe readers and viewers want–play into what is covered and how it is covered.

This doesn’t have to be an overt bias, it can be more subtle things: cutting air time, moving things to the interior pages, and, of course, choosing who does and doesn’t get hired in the first place.

Just some context.

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One Response to The Context In Which Political Reporting Occurs

  1. Bern says:

    Not only do ad revenues drive content, they also spin the content. But it works both ways: when big media figured out how much of a free ride Gluteus Maximus was getting, they finally started sniping at him. He’ll never spend enough ad money to get back in their good graces…

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