The Campaign Spot

Election-driven news and views . . . by Jim Geraghty.

Spreading Our Ideas in the Era of Drug-Dealer Journalism


The first Morning Jolt of the week offers a look at complaints about the White House Correspondents Dinner, some truly jaw-dropping statistics about the increasing rate of gun sales in this country, and then these thoughts on what I learned, and shared, at last week’s conference in Orlando:

Spreading Our Ideas in the Era of Drug-Dealer Journalism

Things I learned at the Heritage Foundation’s Resource Bank and the Franklin Center’s Future of Media discussions this past week in Orlando:

  • According to Anton Vuljaj, political advertising strategist from Google, YouTube’s search engine is the second-most used search engine on the web, after Google.
  • Direct mail brings in $36 million per year for the Heritage Foundation.
  • One of the big problems with modern groups that promise get-out-the-vote efforts is that they blur the line between voter contact and voter interaction — i.e., a robocall, a door hanger, an e-mail all count as voter contact, but the voter may or may not even look at them. The best get-out-the-vote groups aim for actual interaction with the voter, via phone or best of all, in-person by knocking on doors.
  • No Obama campaign offices in Ohio shut down completely between 2008 and 2012. Are any of the Romney offices still open?

Here’s an abbreviated version of the talk I gave on the panel, “Leading Voices in Conservative Journalism (Who Were Available)”:

Andrew Malcolm just observed that we’re no longer in the “Pharmacist Era of Journalism” — where an authority figure stands above you and gives you what experts have decided you need to know. Perhaps we’re in the “Drug-Dealer Era of Journalism” — where you may not completely know or entirely trust the source who’s giving you what you want to know, but it gives you a rush, and you’ll probably be coming back for more later.

Most of us in the world of conservative journalism are now aiming to reach that chunk of web users that go onto Facebook and never come off. Predicting which pieces, visuals, and ideas go viral remains a crapshoot. My graphic on foreign aid to the Palestinian Authority being spared by the sequester was viewed 334,000 times. I’ve had other ones that I thought were just as good get 1,000 views or so.

A good chunk of the Facebook-only audience is relatively apolitical, which is a way of saying we’re trying to offer political news and arguments and ideas to people who fundamentally aren’t that interested in policy and politics. We’re facing the challenge of trying to reach a new audience while continuing to serve a very good, loyal audience that is interested in what we do.

My favorite example of handling the loyal audience/new audience divide badly is when NBC decided they wanted to get more women to watch the Olympics, and thus large swaths of their prime-time Olympics coverage were devoted to documentary-style features about the hardships that the athletes had overcome — a seemingly endless cavalcade of relatives with cancer, or car accidents, or brutal injuries, or their dogs getting sick, or the Starbucks barista getting their drink order wrong — suddenly, every athlete’s life was like a country-western song. And the usual audience for the Olympics asked, with greater levels of irritation, “Hey, weren’t we supposed to be watching some actual athletic competitions? Wasn’t some skier supposed to be falling down a mountain by now?”

So while we need to be embracing social media and providing our news stories and arguments and ideas in ways that are more bite-sized, I have this nagging fear that we might lose, or perhaps slightly devalue, some of what we’re here to do. There is no such thing as investigative tweeting. A Facebook graphic is two sentences at most, a picture, and perhaps a hashtag. Theoretically, you can use Tweets and Facebook graphics as bait, designed to bring people to the long-form, meatier pieces, but I wonder how many people retweet a headline without actually clicking through to the story.

I’m a writer. I like long-form journalism. I like a good Fisking, where you dismantle a lousy argument by going through it line by line and exposing every falsehood or illogical conclusion. And I hope we can figure out a good balance that does all of the important work, the hard work, the work that takes time and resources — with the work that is fun and funny and quick and spreads quickly but that ultimately doesn’t stick with you.

Tags: Journalism , Media , Social Networks , Conservatism


Subscribe to National Review