The Observer’s Walser told me that he hopes the paper will spend more time on the presidential campaign and get back to examining campaign donations closely after the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte (September 3-6)—on which, he said, the Charlotte newsroom is now focused. (In late March, the Observer announced a Convention-coverage partnership with Politico, which, ideally, could ease the Obsever’s burden). The Observer launched a detailed graphic on donations flowing from North Carolina back in February, along with a stage-setting piece that explained North Carolina’s importance in the presidential contest this year. But the graphic has not been updated since and is not obviously linked from the newspaper’s online politics page. The paper should build on (and then better showcase) what it started earlier this year.
Factcheck key ads: These ads are running in discrete, local markets and reaching viewers who might not seek out factchecks in national media. So there is value in running factchecks in local media, where casual consumers of political news might see them. Yes, North Carolina’s Congressional primary races (and late runoff) sucked up capacity for the state’s political reporters. But the volume of ads in Charlotte demands an effort to contextualize them for voters, even if it means running wire copy, licensing the Washington Post, or pitching-in by McClatchy DC.
One example: a Mitt Romney ad stars Jack Gilchrist of New Hampshire as a small business owner complaining about Barack Obama’s “You didn’t build that” phrase. The ad is in heavy rotation in Charlotte, with the “Why are you demonizing us,” phrase always present. The New Hampshire Union Leader reported on Gilchrist’s background and noted his business had received a government loan, assistance and contracts. For Charlotte audiences, that information would be valuable.
Truth-checking advertising is, the Observer’s Walser told me, “something we’d like to be doing more on,” noting that the abundance of ads makes it “harder for us to keep up with.” The Observer’s sister paper, the Raleigh News & Observer, has helped, and the papers regularly share content. John Frank of the News & Observer factchecks without a particular schedule and on top of other duties, including state legislative coverage when it was in session, but also has a primary focus on statewide races. The News & Observer dedicates a web page to factchecking, a valuable organizing method that highlights the work. Walser, pointing to DVRs, Hulu and Netflix, also wondered about “writing about ads that nobody is watching” (before expressing personal sadness that ESPN plans to start taking political ads during football season.)
Which feeds nicely into this next suggestion:
Explore the effectiveness of TV ads, and what’s next in voter targeting: Despite the abundance of advertising in swing states, only 25 percent of those surveyed by Pew in June in the 18-29 age group say they have seen “lots of ads.” As voters move away from TV screens and consume more media online, how are campaigns using targeted tools to reach them? ProPublica had an illuminating recent post headlined, “How Mitt Romney Followed Me Around the Internet.” And Walter Shapiro, here at CJR in May, suggested getting out and talking to voters to get a sense of if and how the ad barrage is working.
North Carolinians will continue to be bombarded by political ads for the next three-plus months. Reporters here need to equip voters with some of the means—information, context, links to additional resources—to defend themselves.