by Rebecca Lake
April 2017

Digital convenience and a fall in advertisement revenue for print media resulted in the decline of print newspaper circulation; readers frequently turned online to find information. In a democratic society, news fulfills an important role in informing the public regarding events that directly fall in their sphere of interest or in the surrounding world. The public still relies on news outlets to educate and enlighten regardless of the source. For politics especially, the candidates and political figures depend on news to circulate positive word on their policies and personalities. With news there retains a focus on exciting and breaking stories, detailing often more scandalous stories on politicians than those of praise for their actions. For political figures to control the information, they create advertisements to encourage either a positive view of themselves or a negative campaign against their opponents. Traditionally advertisements work to sell a specific product, but political ads aim to broadcast a sentiment to encourage viewers to vote. The inner workings of the bipartisan system shape the amount and topic in newspaper outlets while political advertisements consciously expose the country to biased messages, contributing to the narrow scope in politics.

When it comes to presidential elections, all news outlets concentrate mainly on the campaign and the candidates. In this day and age the media has this integrated type of partisan press where newspapers cover both political parties and, instead of just endorsing one, they reveal both the good and bad aspects of candidates. It is important to include all perspectives when it comes to political issues so readers with no strong political alignment can use the news to gauge and determine where to place their vote come Election Day. When deciding how to vote, there is this heavy emphasis on the negative qualities of a candidate, specific reasons why a certain person does not meet the qualifications to lead the United States. For voters with strong convictions on who should be president, these negative articles have a minimal effect; in the case of those undecided voters, news is essential in deciding who to cast their vote for.

Hal Hankins, a high school government teacher, criticized the media for giving Trump “free media”, making Trump the center of attention for the Republican Party and overshadowing the Democratic Party. Starting in the primaries, when Donald Trump ran opposed to a handful of other Republican members, the name Donald Trump overwhelmed that of the other competition. In The New York Times, from the beginning of January 2016 up until the end of July (after the National Conventions), 4,764 articles covered some aspect of Trump’s life while only 1,831 articles covered Trump’s top competitor, Ted Cruz. For the Democratic side of the election, there was a closer amount of coverage with 3,474 articles on Hillary Clinton and 2,158 on Bernie Sanders. After the National Conventions and just before the Presidential Election, Trump still outnumbered Hillary with 5,513 articles to Hillary’s 4,503. Among the top few newspaper outlets, The New York Times includes a refined search bar to narrow down articles based on dates of publications; other top news sites only have a keyword search bar. Of the articles on Hillary and Trump there were a variety of authors in gender and race writing on different stories related to the two candidates. The articles relevant to the search (the candidate’s name) focused on negative stories, but still contained some positive, and neutral stories.

As for such a difference in the coverage for the candidates, this falls in the newsworthiness of the person. For Hillary, she lived in scrutiny of media during the presidency of her husband, Bill Clinton. Many people already formed an opinion of the First Lady and later Secretary of State under President Obama. Trump, as a business man, still felt the presence of the media before campaigning, but in a smaller scale. To inform the public, Trump as a political icon needed more exposure than a seasoned political figure with an established platform.

Such a large focal point on Trump does not translate into The New York Times being sexist toward the position of president. In the domain of politics, Trump is a new player, bringing new ideas and scandals into the public domain. The two main contenders of the two parties inherently receive more coverage because of their chance of winning; one of the two will become president, so there is no need to focus on the other candidates. In this way the papers control what type of media the readers experience and limit which candidate fills the media spotlight and receives public attention. In the democratic system the top political parties ultimately take on the role of president instead of alternative third party members; the paper is not at fault for displaying this trend in America’s bipartisan system. This design of politics resembles the agenda-setting theory where the news impacts what the audience perceives as important. This fault is an institutional problem in both politics and the media where the popular, exciting story receives attention. The New York Times is good for contributing to the informing of the public, but bad in the sense that is still emphasizes those main players and doesn’t deviate from that system.

The focus of the story, whether negative or positive, depends mostly on the content of the story and some on how the author decides to spin certain information; any author can frame and make a neutral fact into either a positive or a negative story. Authors may sway facts to appear negative or positive, but the effect depends on the opinions of the readers. Certain readers may pay attention to select articles that align with their perception of the candidates and selectively ignore negative stories on their preferred candidate. Another obstacle in news arrives from the newspaper’s desire for profit. With a decline in paper sales, the company compensates by establishing a paywall on the newspaper’s website, limiting the selection available to non-newspaper members; a portion of the country may ignore top media sites, with vetted news stories, due to the restriction in articles.

To improve the complications with news media, there needs to be an alteration in how the site operates during election seasons. To boost equality, the newspaper can remove the paywall from articles relevant to the candidates and the current election. To possibly eliminate biased stories the newspaper should label the type of journalism used in each article; readers can rely on objective or investigative stories for information rather than opinion pieces.

In addition to newspapers, candidates depend on advertisements to persuade American citizens to vote for them; the most effective way to visually stimulate a viewer is through TV advertisements. Both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump possess YouTube accounts with videos of speeches and political advertisements. As viewers progressively turn more to pre-recorded content, this online platform reaches those voters who predominantly consume media online. The Trump and Hillary campaigns employ similar tactics in their advertisements, both strongly depending on association to draw out voters, placing themselves in a positive light while negatively portraying their opponents. The candidates modified the plain-folk pitch by allowing average citizens to comment on how either Trump or Hillary contributes to “normal” life. In the context of the advertisement, the candidates reveal the important demographics that the candidates want to persuade to vote a particular way. Hillary constantly emphasizes the priority of women, children, and family in her advertisements, trying to target families and women. Trump reinforces his business experience that will restore jobs for the middle class, indicating his priorities in the employment.

Campaigns negatively portray their opponents and overplay their aspirations for the sake of securing votes. Contrasting good qualities to bad policies of the opponent offers a sharp distinction between the candidates, making one candidate look significantly better than the other. When politicians run for office, they create a platform of ideas and policies to enact in the case of their presidential victory; this influences how they target individuals. In response to Trump’s sexists remarks, Hillary’s attack ads criticize Trump’s words and challenge voters to not vote for someone who treats women in such a deplorable way. Trump’s ads expose Hillary’s years in the politics, reminding the public of the harm Hillary’s policies have brought upon the working class; his presidency would combat and restore jobs which Hillary destroyed.

Ads are good in persuading viewers to vote for a certain tactic, but bad in their presentation of the truth. Inherently ads take on a very biased perception of a candidate by focusing on the positive aspects. A candidate may have some brilliant ideas for change, but as a human being they cannot be intrinsically good as the ads portray. Their planned laws and policies, while beneficial for select groups, sometimes negatively impact others, it is unavoidable. Trump plans to eliminate Obamacare which has increased the price of healthcare exponentially for some, while others now depend on that system to cover them when no one else would.

The entire election process strives to persuade as many voters as possible, the ads being a way to mass market their viewpoints to the public. Ads often come off as insincere and fake as the candidate uses them as a general tool to generate their victory. To alter this approach to the political advertisement process, there needs to be a change in how the candidates market themselves to the public. Candidates should focus more on seeing and directly speaking to potential voters rather than trying to rely on mass media to reach voters.

For the 2016 Presidential Election the newspaper outlets continuously made it that Donald Trump would remain the center of attention by writing thousands of articles on him. Overall news influenced the election outcome more than political advertisements. Newspapers and even broadcast news constantly mentioned Trump day after day, reinforcing the presence of Trump in the election. People consciously choose to consume news while advertisements sit back and sometimes help secure a vote. Advertisements will always remain a form of biased content, trying to sell a product or a person, but newspaper does not need to adhere to such a focus on the popular and exciting stories. There can be a change in political coverage, starting by fighting inequality in news stories and representing each candidate an equal amount.

Works Cited

Barthel, Michael. “Newspapers: Fact Sheet.” Pew Research Center’s Journalism Project. N.p., 2016. Web. 26 Nov. 2016.

 

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