Conservative Media Takes Its Influence All the Way to the White House
By Sarah Swinehart
The spotlight on the relationship between the White House and the media has never burned as bright as it does today. Fueled by epic ratings and clicks during the campaign and now-presidency of Donald Trump, the political media landscape has evolved quickly in the past few years. Where people get their news is increasingly becoming more diverse and less traditional, and it’s consumed over a variety of platforms. One particularly rapid evolution has been in the universe of conservative news networks and publications.
Conservative news organizations themselves are not a new thing. Fox News was created during the Clinton administration, National Review was founded over 60 years ago, and Rush Limbaugh first hit the national airwaves in 1988.
What’s different is that these outlets are no longer the only big players in the conservative news game. In the past decade, we have seen the development and rise of more conservative media organizations: Breitbart, Independent Journal Review, The Daily Caller, and TheBlaze, to name a few. And already these newer organizations have an extremely loyal following. Their audiences are not only watching and reading, they are sharing, posting, and engaging with editorial and ad content online. This behavior is not just a stroke of luck; conservative outlets figured out early how to use digital analytics to create and cultivate a loyal following to whom they represent an alternative to mainstream media (considered to be outlets like The New York Times, NBC News, Politico) and for whom they create “audience bubbles” that have been growing over time.
With the arrival of the Trump administration, the presence of and access to government officials by new conservative outlets has grown. One of the most visible examples is the appointment of Steve Bannon, former CEO of Breitbart, as a Senior Advisor to the President. These outlets also now have prime access in the White House briefing room, with the press secretary giving conservative outlets like the New York Post and LifeZette the first question to the podium instead of the long-standing tradition of the Associated Press getting the first ask. The White House has also hosted intimate receptions with the President and his staff for conservative outlets. And instead of a press pool comprised of wire services, broadcast television, and photographers, the State Department gave a print reporter from Independent Journal Review exclusive access to the Secretary of State’s first international trip.
President Trump has prioritized exclusive long-form interviews early on in his campaign and presidency with controversial figures like Alex Jones and Sean Hannity, who loyally defend the president on-air. And, there’s a chance if you check @RealDonaldTrump between 6 and 8 a.m. you’ll find a mention of segments airing on morning cable show Fox and Friends, which tells you he is watching.
This high visibility and access has also meant frequent reference to the reporting of conservative media in mainstream media outlets such as the Washington Post, CBS News, and USA Today. Simply put, these conservative outlets have increased their influence in Washington, have a larger presence in news media, and attract an expansive, loyal audience online.
While DC political types have been building relationships with many of these outlets over time, for many outside the Beltway, the conservative media space is unfamiliar and even intimidating. The questions for many businesses are: How does this new landscape affect my company, my employees and my customers? Where do we fit in?
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to engaging conservative media and their audiences. But what’s clear is that these outlets cannot be ignored. They have large, influential audiences that can impact businesses in a significant way, as we’ve seen with boycotts of major brands stoked by conservative outlets, and boycotts of major brands by groups like Sleeping Giants, who oppose advertising in certain conservative outlets.
Our view: Take the time to study this space and understand where your consumers (or potential consumers) are getting their news and who their influencers are. It’s important to understand that each of these outlets reach different audiences — someone reading The Weekly Standard may have never been on DailyCaller.com. There is no one-size-fits all approach for conservative media as a category.
Considering the dynamic political and news environment, it’s essential to understand how your company’s actions will be viewed across the political spectrum. If you aren’t creating relationships with conservative media, then you are losing out on outlets with a widespread, engaged audience and large social presence. Building those relationships will also help mitigate any risks or potential misconceptions that could affect your brand or company in the future.
Sarah Swinehart is a vice president, media strategies group, Edelman Washington, D.C.