ProPublica asks for help posting TV political ad spending reports online

ProPublica | PEJ’s State of the Media
ProPublica has waded into the debate between the FCC and local TV stations about whether they should be required to put their political ad spending reports online. “We tend to like the idea of public data being online,” writes ProPublica Social Media Editor Daniel Victor. “Since TV stations won’t put it online themselves, we decided to do it ourselves — and we want your help.” He enlisted students at Medill to visit five stations in the Chicago area and copy the reports, which ProPublica uploaded to its site.

As of 11:30 a.m. Wednesday, less than a day after asking for help to do this at more stations, 48 people in 35 television markets had volunteered. (There are about 210 markets in the country.) Victor told me it’s too early to say if ProPublica will use the reports to create a tool tracking political ad spending across the country.

According to PEJ’s State of the Media, campaigns and super PACs could spend as much as $3.2 billion on TV advertising this year, which would be a record. “Super PAC advertising is particularly lucrative for local stations because they can charge top dollar for commercial time. Candidates, by contrast, must by law receive the lowest ad rate available on local TV stations within 45 days of a primary,” PEJ reports.

However, two factors could diminish the windfall for local TV stations: competition from cable, which offers better targeting through niche channels, and the fact that the most competitive races are in small states this year. In 2010, governors’ races in Texas, California and New York drove spending higher.

On Nieman Watchdog, Bill Wheatley proposes “windfall tithing” for those TV stations: “Stations would voluntarily take 10 percent of the gross revenues produced by 2012 election ads and apply the money to enhanced on-air and online political coverage by their stations.” || Related: ProPublica to partner with Digital First Media, providing pre-publication access to its news applications so newspapers can write local stories

Get the latest media news delivered to your inbox.

Select the newsletter(s) you'd like to receive:

We have made it easy to comment on posts, however we require civility and encourage full names to that end (first initial, last name is OK). Please read our guidelines here before commenting.

  • David Herzog

    It’s great to see ProPublica gathering political ad-buy information across the United States. The more we can do to uncover this information, currently stored in filing cabinets of TV stations, the better.

    Here at the Missouri School of Journalism we’re building a database of ad buys at all our our local TV stations.

    You can read some background on the project here: