Media Consolidation Changed Political Campaigns

by Joe Fuld (He/Him)

Media Consolidation

Media Consolidation Makes It Harder to Localize a Message

During this midterm election season, the media landscape is an important place for campaigns and organizations to look as they plan for the fall.  As we continue to see, all elections in the US have become more and more nationalized. We first wrote about this in 2015 and the trend of national owned media has continued. Since 2005, over 2000 local papers have closed. When you watch, read, or listen to your local news, more and more you see a story from Phoenix in Denver or that more of your "local newspaper" has national news. Even the online news you get is national, not local. We now live in a country with news deserts, where there is a void of local news. Yes, there are still some places where local news exists, but it continues to be a diminishing resource.  
Media consolidation has happened - The lack of local news is not a coincidence. Even the local news sources that remain are so budget-conscious that they get their news from other sources. They are not gathering nearly as much of it themselves as they used to. How we consume news has changed. It used to be that a candidate could win an election by localizing their race. Local issues would be covered by the local news stations and the coverage would drive the local debate and dialogue of the campaign. That, however, is not the case anymore. Sure, in some places if you work hard, you can make a local issue stick for a campaign – but it is increasingly harder to do. Media convergence has been a big part of the change in media. 
Consolidation is a fact of life - In last year’s report by Pew Research Center’s Project on Journalism, Pew found that a quarter of the 952 U.S. television stations that air newscasts do not produce their own content. In many cases, these stations either contract their news out or have agreements with other organizations in which they acquire or share their news content.  
No such thing as local news – We used to be able to count on local messages to cut through, but that has ended. We have learned this through media consolidation and the closing of media outlets. The takeaway is that there really is no such thing as purely local news anymore. Your local news has more national news in it than local news. And this trend is not just for television. It transcends radio, TV, newspaper, and digital. 
Messaging around local elections has changed forever - many folks just didn't notice the death of localized messaging happening. In past midterms, local state legislators lost their races in part because they were tacitly connected to the president and enough voters bought into a national message that it made a difference.  
Statewide vs local elections - Statewide elections have an advantage over local races in their ability to get whatever media coverage does exist and more airtime than local races.  
Twitter now – Campaign dialogue is now relegated to Twitter and other forms of social media. But Twitter is not real news – far from it. It amplifies negative messages, snarkiness, and misinformation. Twitter will never be a neutral arbiter of information like newspapers used to be.   
What does this mean for the midterms?  
A bad national message will hurt the party in power. This is not to say that potential losses in midterm elections by the Democrats should be blamed on media consolidation. There are many factors that can do us in. You can read my analysis of the state of the midterm elections here.  it would be a failing on our part not to recognize media consolidation as a factor and not utilize a real competing national message. It is extremely hard to have a different message than the national dialogue, but you can also pick a message that is part of the national dialogue and work with that too.  
What can we do about media consolidation? Just because local media has diminished does not mean there is none left. You need to engage with the media that does exist for credibility and visibility,  

What can we do if we cannot localize a message?   
Have a clear campaign message – Not having a clear message is a bad idea for any campaign. Without local media, clarity of message from the campaign itself is even more important.  
Maximize paid communication – Making sure you spend your paid dollars effectively makes a difference.  
Build a social following – You will not win a race solely on social media. But, engaging your base is an important part of outreach and something that social media does well.  
Engage the media that exists – There is still media out there. It may be less, but it is still important - do not ignore it.  
Build your grassroots – Make sure your folks are reaching out to their contacts and building – enthusiasm matters.  
Have an active coalition – A real, engaged coalition matters. Make sure you keep, build, and engage your coalition for maximum effect.   
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