In yesterday’s blog I briefly discussed the phenomenon of editorials on an identical subject suddenly showing up in newspapers across the country almost like a flu epidemic had simultaneously hit newsrooms nationwide.
The most recent attack on corn-based ethanol provides a great example of how these coordinated efforts are staged. The current outbreak, which began Sunday, hit the nation’s top tier opinion leaders on Sunday and Monday and began showing up in large regional daily newspapers like the Des Moines Register and the Columbus Dispatch the last two days. Many local papers can be expected to jump on the passing train by week’s end bringing yet another 6 day ethanol drubbing to an end.
Editorials like this don’t happen in a vacuum, especially the main Op-ed pieces with no names attached because they represent the “official opinion” of the newspaper. In fact most editorial writers rarely leave the paper to venture into the real world to form their very articulate opinions.
Most sit in their secluded offices each day and read others opinions, research the internet and read other papers trolling for ideas. However, most also hold court each day where the powerful and the influential come calling with their hat in their hand and try to persuade the editor to write a piece reflecting their position.
If you happen to work at a large East Coast news outlet you have a tremendous amount of power because these folks generally start all news cycles and take the lead on deciding which issues get ink or airtime. Some people (yes, I know a few) make a good living professionally coaching CEOs in business and even government officials on how to best present and sell their message. Most have a news background and they use their contacts to grant attain access for others and grease the skids for their client.
Why would someone go to such great lengths and even spend huge sums on Public Relations/Public Affairs companies to help them hone their talking points and put together professional information packets? Because if you hit a home run with someone like the Wall Street Journal or the Washington Post, competing editors elsewhere will scramble to get something out as soon as possible and hope nobody notices they didn’t have it first. A sort of race begins. In this race it is ok to be second or even third but just like in the Olympics…nobody cares who got fourth place.
An ad in one of these publications can cost $40,000 to $100,000 and quite honestly people are more likely to read the Op-ed pages of most newspapers. This is a high-value piece of journalistic real estate. Now, keeping the aforementioned flu effect in the news business in mind, compound that cost times space in six of the largest newspapers in the county and dozens of influential dailies from coast to coast. And things are getting worse. As the print industry struggles with the economy, many newspapers are cutting editorial staffs, meaning more and more papers are paying for services where they can all access and run the very same editorials verbatim.
Is the light going on yet? So why doesn’t everyone do this? Because it is not a low stakes game. In order to have a profound effect the process is expanded and repeated over and over. Experts are hired to reinforce the company’s position. Interviews are shopped to cable news outlets and talk shows. In a full out assault like the one hitting ethanol the last few years millions of dollars have been spent. So who is writing the checks? Stay tuned. The Brazilian sugar cane industry is next.