Watchdog busy sleuthing TV political files


Democrat and RepublicanMedia-oriented public interest group Free Press is compiling information on political advertising from television public files and hopes to publish results soon. In addition to kicking off a volunteer program to do the work, it visited stations in Toledo where online filing is not yet required.

Free Press’s Libby Reinish went to check out advertising results in Toledo because it has been one of the hottest markets for political advertising so far in the 2012 campaign cycle, despite weighing in at #75 in terms of size on the Nielsen DMA market rank list.

Reinish began with the “covertly consolidated” WTOL, the local CBS affiliate owned by Raycom, and its LMA partner CW WUPW (owned by American Spirit Media) to kick off a day in which she hoped to visit five Toledo television stations.

It took a little while to get started, reported Reinish. “After bouncing me around between a few confused staffers, I ended up in the office of WTOL’s sales director, the political file stacked in intimidating piles on her table.” Getting them scanned took three and a half hours and put her plans to hit five stations in one day on ice. WUPW’s offices were co-located and its stack of ad info was less intimidating, but here Reinish reported being hampered by having to unstaple documents prior to scanning them.

By days end, she had only managed to make it to ABC WTVG. She said when she arrived at the station’s HQ here request was met with “a blank stare.” She was eventually led to a room full of filing cabinets and told it was in there somewhere. She did manage to find what she was looking for.

Reinish has promised that what results she did get will be put online at the Free Press website, and put out a call to local volunteers to finish the job in Toledo. To that end in general, the watchdog has kicked off a program to recruit volunteers to compile data wherever possible, with information available at

RBR-TVBR observation: There has to be a better way – and we think the NAB offered just that when it suggested a detailed summary of advertising week by week. As we understand it, Free Press could have seen which candidates and which PACs advertised in the city during a given week, including how much how often and where.

Instead of one person getting information for only 60% of a middling-to-small market in one day with at least a week or more work left to compile a massive pile of data, one person could easily compile weekly reports on dozens or more markets (once compiled reports are online, of course), and the Toledo data could likely have been collected and totalled in a day. We suspect that a relatively small group of motivated individuals could be publishing ongoing weekly reports throughout the campaign.

Wouldn’t it be interesting to know how much the two Capitol Hill congressional PACs, the DCCC and the RNCC, stack up head-to-head when it comes to spending tactics?

Under the NAB proposal, figuring something like that out would be a relatively simple task.

Under the current system, this kind of information likely won’t be available until sometime in 2013, if at all, since compiling this kind of data whether its online or not will be a major chore.
While it’s true that NAB’s proposal was put forward to offer television stations some protection for sensitive business information, it seemed to us at the time – and still does – that the compiled reports NAB offered would perfectly suit the needs of watchdogs and the press. It’s a shame NAB wasn’t taken up on its offer, which perhaps would have saved Reinish a trip to Toledo. And by now, maybe Free Press would have four or five updates on Toledo spending online instead of still being engaged in the task of producing the first report.