An Expanding, Evolving Media Universe

The ever-expanding, ever-evolving media universe offers a wealth of sources of information about the upcoming presidential campaign.  As a news consumer you should try to avail yourself of a number of different 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 how well the story portrays the reality of a situation or event. 

Be a Discerning News Consumer

Think about where you get your news and information from.  There's a lot of it out there.  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, and individual or group blogs.  Further, the editorial side of a news organization may encompass a wide range of talent, including general assignment reporters, beat reporters, editors, producers, photographers, videographers, columnists, feature writers, and maybe even an editorial cartoonist.  The media are diverse—very 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.

Among the factors that affect the quality and quantity of news and election coverage a particular outlet presents are the available resources (financial, talent, equipment, and commitment), the needs of advertisers and the audience, established news practices, habits and conventions, the peculiarities of individual media, and technology.  Thus a local newspaper has a set of strengths and weaknesses that differ from those of a major network. 

For a given medium, information about the campaign can be packaged in a variety of ways.  For example, on a network there are the flagship evening newscasts, morning shows, magazine programs, Sunday morning newsmaker programs, occasional specials, and so forth.  Similarly, in a newspaper one finds hard news articles, news analysis, long features, lighter, "Style"-type pieces, photographs, columns, editorials, and editorial cartoons.  Increasingly, information must be presented across different platforms; major news organizations have found that they must develop versions for mobile devices be they the iPad, other tablets or smartphones. 

The Internet has come to play an increasingly important role in the past two decades.  Most traditional news organizations have established strong, integral online presences, and there are as well Internet-only news organizations.  The Internet also allows any motivated individual to become a publisher.  While some blogs are first-rate, on top of their subject matter, others don't contribute much beyond echoing what is already out there.  In this information age, stories are linked to and repeated, rapidly circulate in the blogosphere, and are minutely sliced and diced.  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 importance.

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 personalities and establish brand identity.

Evolving Media Universe

The Internet has greatly facilitated the proliferation of information.  Sites such as the Drudge Report (on the web since 1997), (started in 1998), Daily Kos (2002) and The Huffington Post (May 2005) are go-to sources of information for many Americans.  In addition to the news media, social media such as Facebook and Twitter have really came of age in the past several years and during the 2012 campaign.  A Pew Internet & American Life Project report (>) from October 2012 found that, "Some 60% of American adults use either social networking sites like Facebook or Twitter...[and] 39% of all American adults—have done at least one of eight civic or political activities with social media." 

At the same time, over the past decade-plus, established news organizations have had to significantly pare back on their reporting resources.  The Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism's excellent "The State of the News Media 2013" documents "shrinking reporting power" across much of the industry.  For example, the report states, "Estimates for newspaper newsroom cutbacks in 2012 put the industry down 30% since its peak in 2000 and below 40,000 full-time professional employees for the first time since 1978."  Magazines continue to experience declines in ad pages and issues at newstands.   Television is affected as well; according to the report, "Across the three cable channels, coverage of live events during the day, which often require a crew and correspondent, fell 30% from 2007 to 2012 while interview segments, which tend to take fewer resources and can be scheduled in advance, were up 31%."  One of the conclusions of "The Media and Campaign 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."

Recent years have seen immense changes in the industry, including startups, mergers and acquisitions and shutdowns.  Some examples:

Politico (published by Robert L. Allbritton) launched on Jan. 23, 2007, and has become a leader in covering politics.

The Daily Beast (Tina Brown with millions of dollars from Barry Diller) launched on Oct. 6, 2008.

AOL's Politics Daily started on April 27, 2009.  In June 2009 AOL announced acquisition of Patch.  Local Patches are now operating in hundreds of communities.  In February 2010 AOL acquired The Huffington Post for $315 million (+). 

The Daily Caller (Tucker Carlson with $3 million from Foster Friess) launched on Jan. 11, 2010. 

BuzzFeed entered the political realm, announcing the hiring Ben Smith from Politico as editor in chief in Dec. 2011.

The Texas Tribune, "a non-profit, nonpartisan public media organization" launched in Fall 2009, has drawn considerable notice. 

The American Independent News Network, which traces back to 2006, has a liberal orientation, and aims for “impact journalism”™.  It started a network of state news sites, but some of them have since closed. 

The Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity, a 501(c)(3) dedicated to advancing transparency in government, has launched various state sites. 

In February 2011 News Corporation launched The Daily, "the first national daily news publication created from the ground up for iPad (+);" however that only lasted until Dec. 15, 2012. 

Not all print publications have experienced difficulties. The Week, a weekly news digest magazine aimed at a more upscale audience, launched in 2001 and has enjoyed considerable success in recent years.

Comcast's takeover of NBC Universal, announced on Dec. 3, 2009 (+), prompted a full year of discussion about whether the transaction was in the public interest before it was finally approved with conditions on Jan. 18, 2011. 

In Feb. 2010 ABC News announced a "fundamental transformation," including closing bureaus and expanding use of digital journalists (+). 

In July 2009, Roll Call Group, a subsidiary of The Economist Group, acquired Congressional Quarterly, and they have done considerable work on branding. 

The National Journal Group came out with a significant redesign of its publications in Oct. 2010 (+).  Newer media organizations are adjusting as well.  

Finally there are the travails of Newsweek.  In summer 2010 Sidney Harman bought Newsweek from The Washington Post Company for $1, assuming a reported $70 million in liabilities (+).  In Nov. 2010, The Daily Beast and Newsweek agreed to merge forming "The Newsweek Daily Beast Company" (+)  However, at the end of 2012 Newsweek ceased publication of its print magazine. 

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."  [One interesting side note from 2010 was the fact that five potential presidential candidates were working as contributors or hosts on FOX News during the year (Huckabee, Palin, Gingrich, Bolton and Santorum).  Media Matters reported their total time in 2010 added up to 85 hours, and estimated the time to be worth "approximately $54.7 million in free advertising." (Jan. 24, 2010 report)]  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.  For example, the major party candidates are guaranteed coverage, even of their trivial activities, while 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 organizations, the election may not be a major focus until Election Day approaches.  Stories about the campaign appear haphazardly here and there.  A news organization can help its readers or viewers better understand the campaign if it provides some order to its coverage, for example by running its campaign stories in a consistent place or on specific days of the week and by using a recognizable graphic to draw attention to them.  Regular series of articles can also helpful. 

Candidate Profiles

At different stages in the campaign, many news organizations will run in-depth profiles of the major candidates.  A first set of candidate portraits typically appears early in the campaign, perhaps 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, a news organization may choose to 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 addicted to polls and devote substantial resources to conducting them.  Political reporters argue that polling data can suggest stories.  For example if poll numbers show a candidate is weak among particular demographic groups, the reporter might do a story about why this is so.  Sometimes however it seems that reporting poll numbers is a substitute for providing explanation of complex issues.  Horserace coverage adds nothing to understanding of the candidates and issues.  []

Ad Watches

Given the importance of TV advertising in modern-day campaigns, many news organizations now run ad watches.  These analyze the accuracy and fairness of candidates' claims and may provide broader information about where an ad fits in a campaign's strategy.  Ad watches have generally had a positive effect.  Campaigns now release their ads with documented fact sheets.  However, 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 will typically institute 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 place to cover the President at the White House.  The Obama campaign instituted a protective pool on June 29, 2008; and the McCain campaign started the arrangement on August 3, 2008.  The McCain protective pool includes three wire reporters (AP, Reuters and Bloomberg), a wire photographer (AP), a TV crew of three (rotation among ABC, CBS, CNN, FOX and NBC), and a newspaper print reporter.

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 of the campaign, many newspapers make endorsements.  Newspaper endorsements may cause a significant difference in less-publicized races where voters are not familiar with the candidates or the specifics of a ballot initiative, but at the presidential level they probably do not have much impact.  That is not to say a newspaper endorsement has no effect. When candidates are striving for credibility in the pre-primary period or the early primaries or seeking to persuade swing voters in the fall a newspaper endorsement may count for something.  A newspaper's endorsement is generally decided by the editorial board, although sometimes the publisher may weigh in.  Some newspapers have a policy of not making endorsements, at least at the presidential level.  Examining the reasoning used in various papers' endorsements can offer clear insights into the candidates' strengths and weaknesses.  Primary  |  General

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.