The Tube, the Web and the Voter

By Jack Kavanaugh, for Political Pulse.
Published February, 1998.

It's no secret the television audience is shrinking. That not only worries television executives, it also has political implications. Television is, after all, the primary source of information for voters. So, what's the trend? And what does the trend mean? Ask Kim Alexander.

After working with Common Cause, Kim established the non-partisan CaliforniaVoter Foundation just as Internet technology began to emerge and spread.That was four years ago, now Kim is a recognized national expert on the role of the internet in politics.

The trend Kim sees is collaboration -- collaboration across media lines -- with the Internet as the facilitator. In the last election cycle, the San Jose Mercury, KNTV-TV in San Jose, and the Voter Foundation worked together to give voters more information about local campaigns. The "Your Voices Count" project allowed the newspaper, the television station and the Voter Foundation to cross-promote each other. Both news organizations pointed viewers and readers to the Voter Foundation web site and developed their own individual stories.

For the first time in a major media market, voters were getting access to political reporting on a similar theme from multiple media directions." When you deliver a message to a voter, the same message twice in different media,that person," Kim says, "is more likely to 'get it' and remember it than they would if it is just this 'noise' going on out there."

As for the political "noise" out there, Kim picked up another trend as a panelist at the recent PBS "Democracy Project" seminar in Washington. Political consultants, it turns out, are finding those "Ad Watch" features that dissect campaign commercials, play right into their hands. It increases exposure of their spots at no cost. The nastier the spot, the more editorial re-play it gets on the tube. Some consultants deliberately play up to the trend.

TV executives, aware many former viewers are cruising the Internet, built web sites to reestablish contact. And that points to the next trend. Kim says PBS encourages viewers to connect to their web site, while they are watching PBS programs. This allows viewers to interact directly with the show. CNN, MSNBC, CNBC and FOX do the same.

So, where is this going? With a strong shove from the California Voter Foundation, the media is collaborating more now and the Internet seems to be the culture medium. For example, the "California Capitol Week" program I host on KVIE-TV (PBS) in Sacramento is also available on the "CapitolAlert" web site at "CapitolAlert" is a product of the Sacramento Bee.

As Internet use spreads, it reaches deeper into the voter pool. More opportunities arise for campaigns that don't have deep pockets. To Kim, money in politics is, "like an air bubble underneath the carpet. If you step on it one place, it just pops up some place else." This new media collaboration trend, including the Internet, could help weaken the impact of big bucks in California politics.

-- Jack Kavanagh hosts California Capitol Week on PBS affiliate KVIE-TV, covers politics for CBS affiliate KOVR-TV and publishes Rough & Tumble on the Internet at

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