Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Daily Signal Enters The Fray

'The Omnivore should really write about Eric Cantor,' thought The Omnivore, browsing drowsily through the firestorm of early morning reports about the tea party upset in last night's VA primary. Probably something about how Eric Cantor's polling was way, way totally bad. But then The Omnivore sighed: there wasn't anything really new there (the secret: there was one poll plus the always-suspect internal leaked poll--not exactly a huge data-set). Also, there was the matter of the headline. Reader Craig suggested 'Cantor Buried'--presumably with a 'Tale' on the end? Good--but too cute.

'Cantor Do It'? Wondered The Omnivore? Too bland. 'Cantor Totally Got His Ass Kicked'? Well, points for brutality--but so what? While upsets are exciting, the district isn't really in play and the idea that 'now immigration is dead' is just the same old drum-beat.

On the other hand ...

You Can't Stop The Signal

The Heritage foundation has released (8 days ago) its new 'explainer site' The Daily Signal--an entry into the new breed of news sites that aims to expand their reach, integrate organically with social media, and massage the message so that it appeals to the non-partisan. This is actually deeply interesting to The Omnivore whose lens for looking at politics is all about brand. In this case it's the conservative/Tea Party/Heritage Action brand applied to news with an explicit premise that they can do something other conservative news outlets aren't--reach the less partisan audience:
The past few years have seen a profusion of conservative media outlets, with titles such as the Daily Caller and Breitbart News joining standbys like National Review and the Weekly Standard. Although their content varies from red meat to sober policy analysis, all are aimed at fellow conservatives. “You often sense there’s an element of preaching to the choir,” says Katrina Trinko, a well-regarded political reporter lured away from National Review to manage the Signal’s news team. “What appealed to me was that our goal is not just to reach that audience. Obviously, we hope conservatives will come. But we hope anyone interested in information and public debate will see us as a trusted news source.”
They're also going ad-less:
Another way the Daily Signal plans to distinguish itself from its brethren on the right is through the quality of the reading experience. Conservative sites tend to be plagued by annoying pop-under ads and poor design. Heritage hired Atlantic Media Strategies, the digital consultancy behind the elegant financial site Quartz, to design the Daily Signal for phones and tablets. “We thought Heritage could really own the knowledge niche of smart conservatives and designed it with their media habits in mind,” says Ory Rinat, AMS’s director of strategy and partnerships. 
So what The Omnivore needed was some kind of event--some political occurrence--that Vox, FiveThirtyEight, and The Daily Signal would all have to cover. Then, thought The Omnivore, then they could be compared. If only something like that would just happen ...

Cantor Buried!

So this is a pretty big event (it headlined most of the news services). Here's a look at the big-dogs' front pages / top stories:
The Top Are Washington Post, CNN, and ABC News. TOP NEWS is the LA Times
So how did our explainer-sites do?

He Looks Like a Room Without A Roof
Earlier this morning had a giant black header with the headline 'Cantor is Toast' and a link to their timeline of news-stories they'd written. By around 9:30, though, it's his challenger who gets the top-billing. Vox is (The Omnivore asserts) doing a lot of data-driven experimentation with their home-page so we'll see rapid updates as they search for what drives the most user-engagement. Still, this isn't bad.

There are further Cantor-Stories on below the fold (scroll-down) which are:

  • Cantor ads portrayed Brat as a "liberal professor"
  • What David Brat's academic research tells us
  • 11 political lessons from Eric Cantor's loss
  • Cantor loss is bad news for the NSA
  • Eric Cantor defeated in shocking primary upset

Front Page Analysis is committed to giving you "everything you need to know" in 'bite-sized chunks.' This covers (a) what happened (their first story, down at the bottom, which is what The Omnivore will use), (b) what some of its ramifications are (the NSA story--for some of the less obvious ones), and then (c) deep-dives into the finer-details (you never heard of Dave Brat before today, eh?). 

Vox's layout loses some points for not putting all their Cantor-loses stories into their Cantor-loses link (what the heck, Ezra?) but mostly, if you go to the front page and search (uh, you can't: Vox doesn't believe in search)--scroll around--you'll find all the top level stories with extremely clear headlines (Vox does not capitalize its headlines--why? The Omnivore bets there's a reason--possibly because they are 'not headlines' in some Vox-verse interpretation ... but The Omnivore isn't sure).


DEFINITELY A Room With A Roof. A Low, Low, Dismal Roof
Over in Silver-world we get Cantor on the top left and an article that is titled: What Happened? This is the only Cantor story The Omnivore can find on FiveThirtyEight and if you are asking "What Happened?" in the sense of "I don't know why everyone is all ape-shit about this?" vs. "Why were all the polls so wrong and stuff" you are probably on the wrong site.

Front Page Analysis

While the cadence of stories at FiveThirtyEight is slower than Vox's, it's clear they consider this important stuff and they probably know their readership well enough to assume they'll know at least who Cantor was.

The Daily Signal

She's Obviously A Terrible Teacher
Cantor's defeat doesn't even make the top slot. The newspaper with the largest circulation that The Omnivore found where that was the Chicago Tribune. What's going on here? Well, The Daily Signal is organized around what they call "passion points"--you can see them there: Must Reads, Benghazi, Common Core, Cronyism, and Obamacare. 

Where exactly does a tea party challenger defeating an establishment candidate fit into that narrative? These are all about Obama (it's in the Must Reads section, i.e. the 'grab bag.'). The title for it is Society. Although by 10:00 AM they have switched to a Cantor-Related headline ("The Issue that Likely Fueled Cantor's Defeat"--hint: Immigration Amnesty) one thing is clear: the astounding upset wasn't on what Heritage wanted its viewers to see first thing this morning.

Front Page Analysis

The passion points, for a publication that is 'explicitly' trying not to 'preach to the choir' are all pretty much dead-on-conservative red-meat pain-points. If The Omnivore had to guess, he would guess that some unstated mission of The Daily Caller drove the front-page selection (and the later replacement with the Immigration issue). That hidden agenda? Party unity. Every conservative can get behind shooting down teacher tenure. Some of them are going to be concerned by Cantor's insurgent defeat. Until the folks down in Content can get their message right? It's better to stick with the safe territory.

The Stories Themselves

Let's take a look at the Cantor-Lost stories themselves and see what they tell us.

Vox opens with the event calling it 'the most stunning upset of this election season so far.' It tells us who the winner was (David Brat, an economics professor) and what the issue was (immigration). It then gives us some back-story on Cantor: he was first elected in 2000, became a sort of key-conservative counter to Boehner--but then threw in with Boehner during the Tea Party challenge against him. It notes that Cantor seriously out-raised Brat.

Language Use

Going into the specific language the Vox piece uses we see first that it uses the term "immigration reform" when discussing confrontation between Brat and Cantor but does also note that Cantor stated he had never wavered on the Democrat's "amnesty" bill (scare-quotes in the original).

It finds that Cantor pushed for 'harder-line' conservative strategies (compared to Boehner). A quote from Politico characterizes a year of 'bitter behind-the-scenes fighting' between Cantor and Boehner over the debt ceiling. 

The Vox piece closes with the idea that the result shows that "the right-wing primary challenge is alive and well -- and should strike fear into the hearts of any Republicans thinking of working with Democrats on immigration reform."


This is fairly tame language. The battle over 'amnesty' vs. 'immigration reform' is pretty standard stuff but it's still a signifier for the right. The terms 'harder-line' and 'bitter' (which came from Politico--but was still chosen by Vox) are at best mildly loaded. Being a harder-line conservative than Boehner isn't a negative to most readers on the right (it's kinda like being a little to the right of Bill Clinton these days, really).


FiveThirtyEight calls the primary a 'shocker' and notes that David Brat, the winner, was 'relatively unknown' and 'spent little money in the race.'  In wondering what happened, it gives us a few 'quick thoughts:'
  • The race was insider-vs. outsider dynamic and 'the tea party is definitely not dead.'
  • Cantor had little history of bucking his party (insider) but was quite conservative. It finds that his position of authority 'saddles him with any grievances that voters might have' against the establishment.
  • It then dives into the DW-Nominate Scores for the requisite 538 numbers point: a scoring of Cantor's left-vs-right votes (pretty right) and insider-vs-outsider score (totally insider, especially on immigration reform).
  • It points out that you shouldn't trust internal polls and blasts McLaughlin & Associates as having 'gotten many races wrong in the past two years.'
  • It finds that Cantor knew he was 'in trouble' due to spending a lot of money on negative advertising and that following the money is better than listening to what their pollsters say.

Language Use

FiveThirtyEight also uses 'immigration reform' and puts "amnesty" in scare quotes (or, well, quote-quotes since it notes that's what Brat called Cantor's stance). Otherwise it's mostly wonkish in its explanation of DW-Nominate scores and how they high-light the insider vs. outsider cast of the race.


This is not so much an 'explainer' piece as an 'explanation piece.' It doesn't try to give you a full back-story on everyone or do a preliminary job of laying out the basics with 'more to follow' as Vox does (and follows: this happened last night and Vox has like five pieces up). Instead it's providing the FiveThirtyEight data-driven take on the election and while it identifies 'immigration reform' as 'one of' the dominant issues, it doesn't say "This was all about immigration reform" or anything over-reaching like that.

The Daily Signal

The Daily Signal's piece is short and does most of its work with quotes from either the candidates or other news sources.:
  • It identifies Eric Cantor and tells us he lost his primary to 'a local economics professor'
  • It identifies that professor as David Brat and tells us the margin of his victory (56-44).
  • It quotes Cantor's concession speech.
  • It quotes NBC12 anchor Ryan Nobles who finds the upset 'absolutely stunning'
  • It quotes Brat who calls his victory 'a miracle' and credits tea party activists for their support.
  • It quotes Brat saying the central policy issue is 'Cantor's absolute determination to pass an amnesty bill.'
  • It talks about the funding miss-match and that this is the first time a House majority leader has lost a primary.
  • It tells us who Brat faces (Jack Trammell, aslo a professor at the same college Brat teaches at)

Language Use

The non-quoted language is spare and straightforward--but the choice of quotes uses 'amnesty' and the term 'immigration reform' never appears in the article. The Daily Signal puts "Republican principles" in quotes (it's quoting Brat from his appearance on Hannity) and lists 'limited government and free markets' as his examples.


Relatively savvy: the piece is lean and fact-based while making sure it flies the correct semantic flags to keep conservatives happy. It's a pretty good example of an attempt at outreach without overreach. 

The Daily Signal

The Daily Signal's follow-up piece hits the high-notes of "illegal immigrants," "amnesty," and finds that "amnesty is not a winning position for attracting Republican voters." This may be a 'commentary' piece (that's the section) but it gets top billing after the teachers (and the headline about Terrible Teachers is pretty telling in itself).

The Daily Signal is attempting to walk the line between being news that conservatives will read and being news that Republicans will read. It isn't really reaching out to liberals so much as center-right moderates. That's why its passion points are pretty much purely conservative. That's also why it doesn't have ads.

Forget about the pop-up / pop-under stuff: that's ... an issue--but it's over rated as a major problem (are we to believe they can't have well-behaved ads? They're just incapable? Vox and FiveThirtyEight all have ads after their fashion). Here's why The Daily Signal really doesn't have ads:
Brietbart and The Daily Caller (Pop-Under)


The Weekly Standard

The reason why The Daily Signal is ad free is that right-wing ads are stuffed with conspiracy nonsense and blatant, overwrought attacks on the Obama administration. Try convincing anyone you're selling "straight down the middle" news with that stuff flickering around your borders.

Their comments look fairly standard for conservative sites: Watch that space to see if they get more heavily curated.

In short, the Daily Signal (at least on this test) is a reasonable attempt at neutral news on a per-story basis but their entire structure isn't about the middle so much as getting their message to the center-right without appearing cray-cray. They know the tea party (fueled by Heritage Action) has a bad rep and want their talking points (Benghazi, Cronyism, Common Core) without the tea party brand getting in the way. 

Despite a decent attempt at this (from, again, this one test), The Omnivore suspects that they won't be all that successful: like Eric Cantor, they are trying to straddle a line that is hotly contested in the GOP. Conservatives who dislike the tea party probably won't be fooled by a lack of glowering Obama faces down the side and won't necessarily find the term "immigration reform" vs. "amnesty" to be as big a selling point as the TruCons (TM). 

On the other hand, it's not a bad piece of reporting in and of itself: if you want to know what happened last night you could do worse than The Daily Signal ... but you'd be better off with 

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