It may be time to put down the newspaper, because many of your constituents already have. The idea that online news sources and blogs are capturing a greater share of the public consciousness is nothing new. The transition from paper to online has been going on for years. But heading into 2011, the influence of online political news and blogs is striking and affecting the way politicians campaign and communicate.
Recent research from ComScore Inc. finds that in October 2010, at the height of the midterm campaign season, the number of unique viewers for political news sites increased to 27.4 million, a 12 percent jump compared to September. General news sites were even more influential. The New York Times led the way for online news with 34.6 million monthly unique visitors last month. This number is even starker considering The New York Times’ circulation decreased to 1.4 million on Sundays and 950,000 on weekdays according to a recent audit by the Audit Bureau of Circulations.
News organizations are beginning to adjust to this changing dynamic. The Washington Post has created a slew of political blogs ranging from national to state and local politics. The newspaper’s journalists even use the power of social media to increase their readership. The New York Times recently brought Nate Silver’s fivethirtyeight.com under its fold while CNN now operates the CNN Political Ticker blog on its website. In addition to traditional news organizations moving online, a host of internet-only news outlets and blogs have begun capturing the national and local consciousness. The Washington Post’s Chris Cilizza recently compiled a list of the best political blogs by state.
One thing online news and blogs has done is contribute to the increased polarization in American politics. This sentiment was reiterated by Eric Schmidt, CEO, Google who said the Web will allow people to “miscommunicate even louder” and is “as likely to make them more extremist as it is to make them more insightful.” This means Members of Congress need to use online blogs as way to communicate with their base. An example is Congressman Kevin McCarthy, who gave an interview in September with redstate.com, a prominent Conservative blog, discussing the upcoming 2010 election.
Online blogs and news can also be used by Members of Congress to supplement coverage of press conferences and legislative achievements. Many times, if traditional news declines the opportunity to attend a press event, bloggers may take the opportunity. This ensures core supporters will see the message and enough blog coverage may force traditional media to take notice.
But Members of Congress and staff must maintain caution when dealing with blogs. Many bloggers stretch the rules of journalism and know a juicy story or clip can enhance their readership and advertising revenue. As many positives as blogs can provide office’s in supplemental press coverage, they can also derail a legislative career.
Loved or hated, online news and political blogs can no longer be ignored. Constituents are increasingly looking online for their news and scouring a variety of sources – whether from a traditional media source or a new local blog. Each office and campaign needs to survey all online media sources and make individualized determinations on what outlets are the safest and most effective for disseminating information.