Monday, April 15, 2013

The Media Should Not Cover YouTube Attack Ads

If a political party isn't willing to pay to put an ad into places people are likely to find it on their own (like TV, radio, newspaper or even paid online adverstising), the media should not provide free publicity to almost-no-cost "attack ad" content:
There was no day off to celebrate for Justin Trudeau, who won the Liberal Party leadership decisively Sunday night with more than 80 per cent of the vote.

Before Trudeau's first full day as leader had even begun, attack ads against him appeared on YouTube in English and French.
I'm reminded of that West Wing episode where the Bartlett campaign returns a "leaked" attack ad on Bartlett to the Republican campaign, who deviously turn it over to the media, claim they didn't create it and because the "story" of it being anonymously provided to the Bartlett people is "news" - the ad gets major free airtime on all the networks at no cost to the Republican campaign.  Now the Conservatives/Republicans don't even have to trick their political opponents into doing something to provoke media coverage, just post it on Youtube and it gets mucho coverage.

This is even worse though, the media is just volunteering to be gamed.  If the Conservatives aren't going to put money behind their ads to get them in people's faces, no one should be writing about them.  At least if an ad goes viral on Youtube by itself, then, sure, it's already news, discuss it.  This is ridiculous.  If more people are going to see something because of media coverage of it, then would see or hear of it otherwise, it probably shouldn't be covered.

And since I'm clearly in the realm of "shouting at the wind" here because the media's incentives are all wrong, the Liberals and NDP should take their cue from this and return the favour.  If the media wants to fill news hole with vacuous "someone made a practically zero cost attack ad" stories, better feed the beast because if you don't, the cynics on the right gladly will.

(I also can't help but think the gross budget cuts inflicted on the CBC are partly behind their sinking to the level of the for-profit media - not having enough reporters and editors to produce meaningful content that's worth talking about makes an outlet starved for content, these things cost money, and spending time talking about some video the Conservatives posted is free, your existing host can blather about it, you don't even have to send reporters anywhere, but it adds zero value to what Canadians know about politics).

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