“For the first time in years, the presidential candidates did not attend the annual Newspaper Association of America mediaXchange conference. How can newspapers attract attention from political candidates to maintain their relevance in political discussion?”
Nover is a media and strategic communications student jointly pursuing his bachelor’s and master’s degrees. He most recently interned at The White House Office of Communications.
The presidential candidates snubbed the conference for two reasons: 1) The unexpected importance of the New York primary, and 2) Their political viability had little to do with attending the conference.
On the first point, New York was crucial. Secretary Clinton and Mr. Trump had to defend home turf. Senators Sanders and Cruz and Gov. Kasich attempted to disrupt additional advances by the frontrunners.
Clinton and Trump dominated, and the election is now a two-dog race.
On the second point, election coverage has seen a deluge of earned media for Trump and anyone mentioning his name. Any one candidate’s attendance at mediaXchange would have little impact on his or her coverage by newspapers. Newspapers will continue to write about the candidates and cover the horse race. Editorial boards will continue to editorialize, endorsing candidates and warning their readers about supporting others.
The newspaper industry no longer commands the same gatekeeping sway it once did. In a time when every newspaper is self-examining and adapting to the digital-first environment, a loss of power is palpable. No longer do candidates need to fight for newspaper coverage or editorial board support like kingmaking lobbies. For the first time, candidates are viewing new media and legacy media on more of an even playing field.
Poynter’s Rick Edmonds reads the snubbing as more of a political happenstance rather than a harbinger of the dissolving clout of newspapers. In reality, it is a combination of the two.
Candidates do not need to address the editors and publishers of the newspaper industry. Voters do not care about the NAA conference; they care about engaging with the candidates in their cities and towns.
To attract attention from candidates, newspapers need to cover the election with grit, context, and creativity. They need to pitch new interviews and discussions with the candidates, and find new ways to contribute to the political discourse through their reporting as well as through innovative digital efforts.
Price has been editor for The Grafton News, owned by Holden Landmark Corp., since May 2015. He has also been a freelance writer, business writer and news blogger.
Even in a small community, town newspapers fight the same battle to stay relevant with politicians especially as print circulation—the common barometer of readership—continues to dwindle seemingly everywhere.
But as former Speaker of the U.S. House, Thomas “Tip” O’Neil was well known to say, “All politics is local,” and that I believe, is how newsgroups, big or small, can stay in the game.
Let me give you an example from our backyard. In 2012, Massachusetts voters overwhelmingly passed a medicinal marijuana ballot question. Grafton voted the same way. It took the state years later to put the legal and public health puzzle pieces together but when they did, a handful of dispensaries began to pop up in the Commonwealth. Then, a business owner, who held a hard to come by state license, decided to open a local dispensary in a retail zoned spot. Elected town officials said O.K. since voters already showed their comfort level. Then, neighbors in that part of town caught wind and all hell broke loose. Too close to where kids congregate, said some. The traffic would be overwhelming, said others.
The message was clear. Politics can vary, block-by-block.
Untrue rumors about shady deals and decisions made behind closed doors swirled around social media. In all the confusion, thousands flocked to local papers to get the true picture.
Although social media outlets like Facebook can be a useful avenue for politicians to reach out to their constituents (effectively cutting news gathers out of the deal), readers will still search out to the friendly town newspaper that has built up decades—or even a century—of goodwill. This is especially true for readers who are generally distrustful of elected officials. For other readers, newspapers will always be the primary source. Older voters—the golden egg for politicians—tend to be less Internet savvy and rely heavily on local newspapers bought in a convenience store or delivered to their home. According to a 2014 national survey by Pew Research, 56 percent of newspaper readers said their only contact with a paper was in print. Meanwhile, younger readers reach out online. Either way, they both find us.
In Grafton, our relevance with politicians remains local—block-by-block.