The media and the final days of the campaign: the fifth estate’s amplified role

As the Ontario election enters its final stretch, the media will play an amplified role in shaping the outcome on E-day. With a sizeable number of undecided voters and with polls showing the Liberals and the PCs neck and neck and the NDP still in the game, this remains a tight race. There isn’t much ammunition left in the parties’ platforms and while controversies might continue to reveal themselves (gas plant emails, anyone?), there will be few new or interest-grabbing policy announcements to pay attention to. This means the job of the media will fundamentally shift from reporting to analyzing to ultimately, influencing voters.

In an election campaign the media plays its traditional role of reporting on what the political leaders have said, getting others to comment on election platforms and tracking and reporting the various pollsters’ findings. But at some point, in the last days of the writ, the media start to provide voters with more information on why the electorate should vote for a specific party or candidate.

In this election, some media outlet ownership has already stated who they recommend for the top job. The Toronto Star has endorsed the Liberals, the Toronto Sun will always support the Progressive Conservatives and the Globe and Mail has reluctantly supported Tim Hudak.

Endorsements are nothing new. And in a race this tight, there is another perhaps more influential role the media will take on. As June 12th approaches, some media will try and challenge the electorate to really debate the issues. In fact, as the election date draws closer, some reporters will work more diligently to find the new angle for a story. The degree of fervor to find the new or different approach for providing information increases in an election like Ontario’s where the race is tight, voter turnout appears to be waning  and where no one political party seems able to grab the brass ring.

So what should we expect from news coverage in these final days? Watch for the media to go into overdrive. How will it manifest itself? Greater scrutiny anchored by three primary objectives: encouraging the public to vote, helping voters make a thoughtful well-informed choice and in many cases, influencing the electorate through hard hitting reviews.

Recall too that the power of this influence is relevant in both the large and smaller media markets. In fact, it might be even more powerful in the regions of the province outside the large city centres. This is where the smaller publications, local columnists and well-known reporters have intimate connections to the community and can influence voter choices with a stroke of their pen/keyboard or a radio-talk-show comment. There are plenty of ridings to be had in these regions and the media’s shaping and reshaping the issues for those communities and their impact on voters cannot be underestimated.

So with the final days of the campaign upon us, based on the above, don’t be surprised if you mark your ballot based not on what a party leader or candidate said but on the opinion you read in your paper.