by Max Brantley
It's about the advertising bonanza expected by TV stations in swing states in 2014 thanks to political ads.
The prospect of windfalls, the article suggests, is propelling recent TV acquisitions by major corporations. The article notes that Allbritton is seeking bidders for its TV stations, led by a highly profitable station in Washington, D.C. Allbritton also owns KATV-Channel 7 in Little Rock.
Money will be made in Arkansas in 2014, it seems certain. Races for U.S. Senate and governor are likely to be among the most expensive individual races ever. Hundreds of thousands have been spent by outside groups already in the Senate race, despite the absence of a declared Republican candidate as yet to face incumbent Sen. Mark Pryor.
Will the infusion of money find its way to the news reporting staffs? The article comments:
Although the Obama campaign gained attention last year for its careful ad targeting, which sometimes resulted in effective but cheap ad buys on obscure cable channels, local newscasts remained one of the most desirable places for political ads. In Washington last fall, WJLA and another Washington station, WTTG, took the extreme step of adding extra half-hours of news temporarily to make room for more ads.
But anyone hoping for a commensurate increase in the size of local newsrooms would be sorely disappointed; staffing levels have risen only slightly. Salaries stayed stagnant last year, according to a Hofstra University professor, Bob Papper, who called the results of his annual survey “lousy.”
The influx of ad spending has also left stations vulnerable to criticism that they are not doing nearly enough to fact-check all the ads they are profiting from. Timothy Karr, a senior director of strategy at Free Press, a public interest group, studied Cleveland, Milwaukee and four other local markets last August and September and found what he said was “a near-complete station blackout on local reporting about the political ads they aired.” Denver was the best of the six, he said, and even there, 2,880 ads from five PACs and outside groups were countered by just five fact-checking news segments.
“This profiteering may explain newsrooms’ reluctance to investigate the sources of political ad spending, or to vet the ads they air for accuracy,” Mr. Karr said. “It’s clear that they don’t want to bite the hands that feed them.”
PS — In that vein, let me bite a hand that I see is now feeding me through occasional advertising on this website. A Democratic-backed Super PAC has been attacking U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton, expected to oppose Pryor in the fall. The ad has been found to be inaccurate on a number of counts by both Politifact and Factcheck.org. Here's Politifact, which gives the ad a "pants on fire' rating, but also can show you when Cotton himself has fudged in is advertising. Here's Factcheck. I'd quibble with them to this philosophical extent: Whatever the structural specifics of some votes on which claims and refutations are based, Cotton, by word and vote, has made it clear he wants to cripple government health care spending programs as we've known them. Food stamps and disaster aid, too.