One Question

One Question About the Seattle Times' Great Experiment

By Josh Feit October 18, 2012

With reporting from Dameon Matule. 

For today's PubliCola "One Question," we talked to people about the great Seattle Times "experiment."

The Times, of course, is doing independent expenditure ads on behalf of GOP gubernatorial candidate Rob McKenna and R-74, the gay marriage measure.

"My concern is, we're relying on the reporter to be objective. They're supposed to report the good news about Rob and the bad news."—Republican Party Chair Kirby Wilbur

The idea, they say, is to prove that political advertising in newspapers works. They're also proving that their objectivity is an expendable commodity, but their own reporters are already making tons of noise about that.

Let's address this so-called experiment. We asked two people in the politics game, whose job it is to shape opinion—Washington State Republican Party Chair Kirby Wilbur and Democratic political consultant Lisa MacLean—what they thought about newspaper advertising.

One question for Wilbur: Would you advise a candidate to take out an ad in a newspaper?

Wilbur: "If I was overflowing with cash I might. And candidates aren't usually overflowing with cash. Politics is the game of spending limited resources. I'd be very hesitant to place ads in a major daily. Look at Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. They've got billions and you don't see them taking out newspaper ads."

Wilbur added that he might recommend it in smaller markets.

We also had a follow-up for the Republican leader: Does he think the Times' "expirment" hurts the paper's credibility?

"I think as a company they have a right to take a position. The issue is, they have to be careful about where they draw the line between the news department and management. My concern is, we're relying on the reporter to be objective. They're supposed to report the good news about Rob and the bad news."

"If they’re trying to persuade uncommitted voters, I think it’s a much less viable tactic. It’s easier to reach uncommitted voters by TV or radio."—Democratic consultant Lisa MacLeanAnd then, switching to  R-74, Wilbur continued: "Management will say reporters can write what they find. But what if they find a big scandal about a donor to R-74? There might be a doubt in the back of a reporter's mind about what the boss might think. I think it can [hurt the paper's credibility] if down the road they get in the habit of doing this. If they start running ads every election season, it raises a cloud of doubt on their objectivity."

Next up, we asked Democratic consultant MacLean—who in fact, is doing the media for R-74—if she would spend big money on newspaper ads.

She told us:

"I would have to say that it depends really on what you’re trying to achieve and what your target audience is. If [politicians] are trying to reach opinion leaders, maybe they could take out a newspaper ad.

"If they’re trying to persuade uncommitted voters, I think it’s a much less viable tactic. Print media consumers typically are well informed and highly skeptical of political advertising and thus harder to convince. It’s easier to reach uncommitted voters by TV or radio."

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