Ad-Watch: Evaluation or Free Screening?

Since June, The Washington Post has been updating a section of its Web site showing about 30 different national TV advertisements regarding healthcare reform.
We have discussed this type of reporting before. Although here The Post has incorporated a multimedia element, the idea is much the same. Ad-watch journalism as it’s sometimes called is a useful tool to help consumers flesh out details from the barrage of information being given to them in political ads. Who paid? How much? What’s it about? Who is it aimed at?
The idea is not to simply give the ads more exposure and run time, especially not for free. With this in mind, it seems The Post could be digging at bit deeper. After being completely astounded once again by the amount of information that can be compiled about any one thing using computers by the NYT’s Series on Water Pollution, it seems The Post could divulge much more about the ads, rather than simply screen them with a few taglines underneath.
Political scientist Bruce A. Williams developed a four-part test for evaluating political information of which The Post’s series seemed to skip a part or two. The four parts are transparency, pluralism, versimilitude, and practice.
The Post series contains the following information for each video: The organization that funded the ad, the ad’s debut date, a ballpark figure for cost (some as vague as “seven figures”) and about 60 words on content.
Clearly this information does not quite hold up to Williams’ test, which as an ideal informant of the public a large newspaper outlet would have the sense to help them along with, the test being indeed a complicated process. I think TWP could stand to do a little more reporting and possibly interpreting for their audience and a little less re-screening of political mud-slinging and partisan ads.


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