Balanced coverage drives politics online

President George W. Bush may be struggling in some areas, but he's also responsible for the heightened interest in national politics in what should be an off year for political news.

President George W. Bush may be struggling in some areas, but he's also responsible for the heightened interest in national politics in what should be an off year for political news.

"In Washington, people are always looking ahead to the next race, but now you've got many people in America also looking ahead to the next election," explains Craig Shirley, author and Reagan historian, as well as CEO of the conservative-leaning Shirley & Banister Public Affairs. "To some degree, it has something to do with the dismay with the current administration and wanting to get to the next administration."

Today's political climate has created fertile ground for new online political news sites that - unlike MoveOn.org or DailyPundit - don't have a distinct ideological slant. The most high-profile is The Politico, which launched online and also has a 25,000-circulation newspaper distributed in Washington three days a week.

Associate publisher Kenny Day suggests that, in many ways, The Politico caters to the modern PR political professional. "More and more, Washington is a delicately balanced town where people in the same shop are trying to get both paid and earned media," Day says. "So we're going to cover a new lobbying shop, as well as have stories about campaign managers, or a new Mormon-run PAC."

Shirley agrees that The Politico does provide new PR opportunities, but adds: "What you want to pitch them is what I call the politics of politics. It's not necessarily about the messages as it is so much the polling, the technology, the fundraising and the personnel."

Washington PR veteran Jeffrey Sandman, CEO of Hyde Park Communications, says the PR potential of sites like The Politico will depend on the audience they ultimately attract.

"If they're really going to attract young people, then I think it's going to be great for both PR and for the political process," he says, "because it's giving voice to journalists who are not at The Washington Post or New York Times."

In addition, there are sites like Topix.com, which combines both wire and newspaper news feeds with forums for debating local issues, including politics.

Marketing/communications director Amy Dalton says Topix currently gets about 1 million people a year going to individual pages, segmented by ZIP code, to read and discuss local issues. "We also have a page for every senator and representative in the US," she adds.

Dalton suggests local political PR pros should - at the very least - monitor their local Topix page.

PITCHING... Online political outlets

The real political interest online is in the horse race, so pitches about polling or fundraising have a better chance of pickup than traditional candidate messages

The 2008 elections will pass, but the ideological warfare between conservatives and progressives will go on. Both sides will continue to demand instantaneous information about politics

Don't neglect such sites as Topix, where local government and candidates get covered and debated

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