Did you know Bernie Sanders was going to have a major video address tonight? You probably won’t find any news coverage with headlines like “Sanders to Make Big Announcement Tonight.” The only way I found out was by talking to a Sanders canvasser last night. Here’s what Sanders is saying on his campaign Twitter page:
Sanders has pinned similar tweets for the last few days. You’ll notice there is no link directly to the live stream in the tweet. What happens if you click on Sanders tweet?
I got to the following landing page. In case you are reading on a phone and can’t clearly see the text in the photo, Sanders is only giving the video link to people who fill out an online form with their e-mail, zip code and mobile phone number:
“The political revolution continues. Submit the form below to receive the link via text message for the Bernie national live stream before it begins on Thursday at 8:30 p.m. ET / 5:30 p.m. PT.
[form to fill out, then in smaller print]
By submitting this form, you are subscribing to mobile alerts from Bernie 2016. Periodic messages. Msg & data rates may apply. Text STOP to 82623 to stop receiving messages. Text HELP to 82623 for more information.Terms & Conditions“
Modern political candidates are always looking to build the size of their e-mail lists. The Sanders camp likes text messages too. I got an unsolicited text the week before the California primary with my name and polling place! (I try to avoid all these lists and hate the spam messages.)
Sanders restricting his video to people who join his e-mail and texting list is emblematic of his media strategy. He is creating an event for core supporters and creating a barrier to entry. Other candidates would probably go on cable news to maximize their audience size. The Sanders campaign could always post a link for everyone to watch, whether or not they want to make a broader commitment to his political revolution. I don’t think any of these decisions is inherently better or worse than other decisions.
One of the main things I studied in graduate school is how decisions like Sanders’ restricting his live stream to subscribers could affect subsequent news coverage. How can news organizations like CNN or the Los Angeles Times cover Sanders’ live stream? Well, someone has to tell them about it. Smart communications staffers don’t just say “we’re having a live stream” if they want a lot of attention. If the Sanders camp told CNN “we’re going to have a big announcement so go to us live” they may cut to Sanders at 8:30 ET. If the Sanders camp leaked something like “Sanders will / will not concede. See full announcement at 8:30” then news organizations would have written preview stories. Print and online organizations could publish any hour of the day but need to make sure writers and editors are available.
With an hour before Sanders’ live stream, there are no preview stories. One possibility is that Sanders doesn’t have anything groundbreaking to day – despite days of promotion on his Twitter account – so news organizations deliberated a possible preview story and rejected it. The other possibility is the Sanders camp hasn’t given reporters a preview of what he is going to say. Preview stories tend to rely on advance leaks to set the context for the main event. No leaks mean no previews and a more concentrated audience. Sanders is speaking after the nightly network news for most of the country, which gives even more evidence that Sanders is following a narrowcasting strategy. Selecting your ideal audience instead of maximizing the total audience is often a good strategy.
[edit: I added this around half an hour before Sanders’ live stream since it needed more detail]:
I imagine Sanders supporters will complain about a lack of media coverage, but getting a small amount of coverage isn’t always a bad thing. Sanders is designing his event in a way that makes it harder for other politicians to respond before East Coast reporters’ deadlines. The most likely situation is a small amount of coverage focused solely on what Sanders says, unless he says something dramatic enough that other politicians choose to respond immediately. One of my core research findings is that drawing more attention to a planned news event generates more coverage, but it also leads reporters to seek out additional sources. Ronald Reagan used prime time press conferences to monopolize the next day’s newspaper coverage for six years before House Democrats learned to wait by the telephone and call reporters to respond to Reagan that night. Rapid response is much easier today, but there’s still going to be a tendency for Washington reporters to write stories quickly and then go home for the night. Sanders may be looking to exploit this opportunity even if fewer words are written about him.
This was posted maybe 5 minutes after my first edit:
Thanks to @GeorgWebb on Twitter for pointing this out!
We also have a preview from ABC. Campaign manager Jeff Weaver e-mailed the following to Sanders supporters:
“Our political revolution is not just about what happens in Philadelphia, or even at the election in November.” Weaver said they would work to keep Donald Trump from being president, but added, “In order for the work that we have begun to be long-lasting for years to come, we must continue our political revolution.”
I imagine ABC would be quoting Weaver from an interview if he agreed to give one beforehand. Right or wrong I’m going to lock this post down (if I can) and own it even if I am completely off base.