“People who read newspapers vote in elections.”

WARNING: Broadcast bias ahead (or not).

The title statement comes from a Wall St. Journal article today — “Political Ads Stage a Comeback in Newspapers” — that proves the difficulty of media organizations covering their own industry. Despite the excellent factual data provided, the piece still comes off as self-serving — so slanted that it’s vertical.

The story itself is a predictor of good things to come in 2008 for the newspaper industry.

At a time when many categories of newspaper advertising are declining, the political message is making a comeback. As overall spending on campaigns doubled to $3.1 billion between 2002 and 2006, the amount spent on newspapers, including their online editions, tripled to $104 million, according to PQ Media. The rate of growth appears to be highest in races for local posts, such as mayor and state legislator, because newspapers boast greater penetration and influence in small- to medium-size markets.

The article notes that despite the growth, newspapers account for less than 5% of advertising dollars spent on political campaigns.

But the Newspaper Association of America couldn’t have done a better job of writing what comes next:

Newspaper readers vote at above-average rates. Even amid circulation declines, newspapers in many markets reach an audience that is competitive with any single broadcast channel, a strength that online editions are bolstering. Online editions also are reaching a demographic group that their print editions have been losing — the young reader.

…Newspapers also allow for more sophisticated arguments than are delivered in the typical 30-second television campaign.

While I don’t necessarily doubt any of those statements, they are stated as fact without attribution in a publication that’s a part of the industry. This is why it’s so hard to cover media news from the inside, but if the WSJ doesn’t do it, who will?

Even when addressing conflicting evidence, the writer offers an apologetic:

A poll last year by the e‑Voter Institute asked about 200 political consultants to rank nine media by effectiveness. The consultants ranked newspapers next to last, behind not only broadcast and cable television but also blogs, radio and direct mail.

That perception conflicts with polls showing that voters rank newspapers third, behind broadcast and cable television, as their primary source of political news and information, says Thomas Edmonds, a Republican political consultant who has studied the issue on behalf of the Newspaper Association of America. Moreover, surveys taken on behalf of the NAA have shown that voters rank newspapers ahead of other media in the credibility of their political messages.

Only one opposing viewpoint goes unchallenged, and that involves a national Democratic consultant who says the primary use of newspapers during a campaign is “trying to get good coverage.”

The article then goes on to note how broadcasters do a better job at basic sales, and that this is one of the reasons newspapers don’t fare as well when it comes to political advertising.

Like I said, it’s tough to cover yourself and be fair. But here’s another thought. Media critics would have a field day if one of the broadcast networks did a similar job on a piece involving political advertising on television.

Trackbacks

  1. […] Excellent piece by Terry Heaton on political advertising and newspaper. From the WSJ: A poll last year by the e‑Voter Institute asked about 200 political consultants to rank nine media by effectiveness. The consultants ranked newspapers next to last, behind not only broadcast and cable television but also blogs, radio and direct mail. Share and Enjoy: These icons link to social bookmarking sites where readers can share and discover new web pages. […]

  2. […] “People who read newspapers vote in elections.” Terry Heaton digs behind the story to point out that the link between newspapers and political information and advertising may not quite be as presented. […]

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