Examining the Role of the Media in the 2015 Election Campaign

By Scott Pruysers

The Bell Chair in Canadian Parliamentary Democracy at Carleton University in association with Making Electoral Democracy Work sponsored a post election panel featuring Rosemary Barton (CBC), Susan Delacourt (Toronto Star), and Paul Wells (Maclean’s).

What was the panel about?

Moderated by Susan Harada, the panellists discussed a variety of topics including the role of social media, changing reporting techniques, the role and appropriateness of editorial endorsements, as well as their own personal experiences with the longest election campaign in modern Canadian history. Perhaps the most common theme of the night was a discussion of the challenges of covering modern election campaigns.

What were the challenges of covering this campaign?

Although all campaigns can be challenging to cover, the panel highlighted a variety of challenges specific to this campaign including a lack of resources and the costs associated with access to party leaders, the propensity for parties to bypass traditional (and national) media outlets, and a sometimes uneasy and antagonistic relationship between the media and political parties. It is worth briefly expanding on the first two of these challenges.

A lack of resources

While leaders tours are an essential part of the national campaign, they are costly affairs for those journalists seeking to travel with the party leader. At approximately $12,000 per week, cash-strapped media outlets are sending fewer and fewer journalists to cover these cross-country tours. Global news, for example, chose not to have a journalist on the tour. While each panellist agreed that being on the tour provides greater access and coverage, Susan Delacourt suggested that the business model simply no longer works. In fact, Delacourt predicted that journalists would find alternate methods of covering the leaders in the future.

Bypassing the national media

Perhaps more troubling for the panel was a sense that political parties are increasingly attempting to bypass the national media in favour of local, regional, and ethnic media outlets. As parties use regionalized campaign tactics and sophisticated voter targeting techniques, tailoring messages for regional and local markets is a key component of their campaign strategy. This is made more challenging for national media outlets as parties continue to bypass the media more generally, transmitting messages and videos directly to voters on social media such as Facebook and Twitter.

Overall the event was a great success. More than 200 audience members attended the panel and a number of audience members participated in an engaging Q&A at the end. Online and social media reaction to the panel was positive as a number of members of the audience tweeted additional comments and questions to the presenters during and after the event. In fact, many stayed for a small reception afterwards in hopes of taking a picture with the celebrity-like panellists.


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