Thumb on the Scale: How is Media Influencing and Adapting to the Election-Cycle Climate?
On Monday, October 17, Tisch College hosted a roundtable event for Tufts media organizations before the college’s Distinguished Speaker Series. Group members were allotted time to interact with the panelists, New York Times political reporter Patrick Healy (A 93), NPR political reporter Asma Khalid, and Mic! co-founder Jake Horowitz, as well as Tisch College Professor of the Practice David Gregory. Aaron Watts and Carly Olson presented questions for the panelists on behalf of the Observer.
WATTS: My question is specifically for Patrick Healy. To what extent do your organization and editors mandate that you cover Donald Trump? In a sense his antics have become a kind of clickbait. Does this influence how much he’s covered?
HEALY: So at this point we have three reporters dedicated to covering Donald Trump and three dedicated to covering Hillary Clinton. Usually we try to have one reporter out with Mike Pence and one out with Tim Kaine. Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump get roughly comparable traffic. What we’ve found is that Donald Trump is usually saying one to two things a day that really break out news-wise while Hillary Clinton is laying a little low right now; her campaign view is that if Donald Trump is causing himself problems—political problems—then why should she get in the way of that?
The Times measures traffic, certainly, like most media organizations, but I’m pretty wary of the whole clickbait phenomenon. Like, this morning, a story broke about Trump, and we could have put a story up at 7 a.m. and gotten into the bloodstream traffic right away, but we didn’t have it confirmed ourselves and we wanted to do some reporting and it didn’t go up online until about noon. So we sacrificed some web traffic, but we were sourcing it.
OLSON: My question is about the “new millennials” who are just participating in their first election now. How does this group consume media differently and how are your organizations adapting to their presence?
HOROWITZ: Great question. So what we’ve found is that 18 to 35-year olds, the millennial generation, is consuming news very differently. I’m sure everybody in this room feels it. I’d be curious actually for the publications in this room—are people still doing print or are folks moving to video, or sort of thinking about short-form video on Instagram or Facebook…? Because what we’re seeing is that our generation is actually consuming news on these platforms. Increasingly, Instagram video is a huge thing. Facebook, obviously, is a huge thing. So if you’re trying to reach an audience you have to tailor your strategy for doing so. So for us that means thinking about platforms where we publish our stories.
KHALID: And I work for NPR, which is traditionally thought to be very terrestrial radio. And the joke we have sometimes is ‘it’s not your grandpa’s NPR anymore.’ We have a lot of staff who are millennials. And this year for the first time ever, we have the NPR Politics Podcast. I think it’s amazing, I enjoy working on it and overwhelmingly when we get our metrics back, the audience is under 35 by far. It’s upwards of 75 percent under the age of 35.
It’s all the same reporters…we’ll all have these weekly roundups that are part of the NPR Politics Podcast but the audience that listens to us on the podcast is very different than the audience that listens to us on terrestrial radio.
Watch a full video of the exclusive panel and highlights from the Distinguished Speaker Series online at tuftsobserver.org