Noah Fleischman

Candidates and groups drop over $12 million on Facebook ad spending

 

By Noah Fleischman, Capital News Service

RICHMOND, Va. -- In an election forecasted to have record voter turnout, political campaigns have deployed a multiplatform media blitz. 

Facebook is for more than likes these days, with the platform getting its share of Virginia political and issue spending to the tune of over $12.7 million in a recent three-month period, according to the social media platform. 

Tobe Berkovitz, an advertising professor at Boston University who has worked as a political media consultant on election campaigns, said campaigns advertise on social media for the same reasons that consumer advertising is used. 

“It’s where a lot of either voters or consumers are getting their information,” Berkovitz said. “You can specifically develop messages for individuals and smaller groups and you can very tightly target who it is that you want to reach.”

Democratic groups or candidates dominated the top 10 when ranking the largest political Facebook ad spending in Virginia. Those organizations spent a combined amount over $2.4 million. That’s excluding the money Facebook and Instagram have put into political advertising.

Facebook tracks advertising spending on issues, elections and politics in its Ad Library. The data show that over a recent 90-day period, about 2,700 groups or candidates, including Facebook and Instagram, spent over $12.7 million on Facebook ads in Virginia. During a comparable period before the election last year, Facebook ad spending totaled $5.5 million, according to a previous Capital News Service report. 

The most spending from Aug. 2 to Oct. 30 went toward candidates at the top of the ballot. Over $2.2 million was spent by the two fundraising committees associated with President Donald Trump and Democratic candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden. 

Biden’s campaign fundraising arm The Biden Victory Fund invested more than Trump’s fundraising committee. The Biden Victory Fund spent more than $1.1 million between the pages of Biden, Kamala Harris and the Democratic Party. Over $1 million was spent on candidate Biden. 

Trump’s fundraising committee The Trump Make America Great Again Committee closely trailed the Biden camp. Trump’s campaign spent just shy of $1.1 million over eight Facebook pages, including the pages of Black Voices for Trump, Mike Pence and Women for Trump. Over $750,000 of that total went to Trump’s re-election campaign. 

Berkovitz said social media advertising is becoming more popular because of the analytics that are available to the campaigns.

“It provides a lot of information about the people you’re trying to reach, the people you do reach, how your message is working, what types of messages do work for them and you just have a lot more data to go on,” Berkovitz said. “We’re in a world where everything is data driven now.”

Over $1.2 million was spent on contested Virginia Congressional races and a South Carolina Senate race. Democratic incumbent in the 2nd District U.S. House race, Elaine Luria’s campaign spent more than $207,000. That lands her in the No. 4 spot. Her opponent Scott Taylor’s fundraising committee spent just shy of $62,000. Taylor previously held the seat and the election is a rematch between the two candidates. 

The 7th District U.S. House race accounts for more than $15.5 million spent on all media advertising during the election season, according to the Virginia Public Access Project. Rep. Abigail Spanberger, the Democratic incumbent, spent almost $193,000 on Facebook advertising in the last 90 days. Nick Freitas, Spanberger’s Republican opponent, spent just shy of $24,000 in the same time span. Most of the money for this closely watched race has been spent on broadcast and cable TV advertising. 

Democratic Sen. Mark Warner’s fundraising committee spent over $186,000 in the effort to keep his 1st District U.S. Senate seat. Daniel Gade, his Republican challenger, spent significantly less through his campaign arm, investing just under $42,000. 

A South Carolina Senate race between Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham and his Democratic challenger Jaime Harrison landed in the No. 8 and No. 9 slots, spending a combined amount of over $310,000. Jaime Harrison for U.S. Senate spent over $156,000. Team Graham Inc. spent just shy of $154,000. 

Advocacy groups turn to the platform for the same reason as politicians. Stop Republicans, a self-described accountability campaign of the Progressive Turnout Project, made the No. 3 spot with just under $230,000 spent targeting Virginians through Facebook. The Progressive Turnout Project ranks No. 7 with $164,000 spent during the last 90 days.

The Service Employees International Union Committee on Political Education rounded out the top 10, spending just over $151,000. SEIU is a labor union representing workers in the healthcare industry, public sector and property services. The organization spent millions nationwide this election cycle to get out the vote, target infrequent voters and promote progressive candidates. 

The political advertising total in Virginia is lower compared to Florida, where almost $85 million was spent in the same 90-day period. In swing state Pennsylvania just over $57 million was spent. Over $45.2 million was spent in targeted Facebook advertising in neighboring North Carolina. 

Facebook isn’t oblivious to the influence its platform has. The company recently imposed a ban on new political ads from being placed leading up to Election Day. 

Judi Crenshaw, who teaches public relations at Virginia Commonwealth University, said Facebook’s ban was “an effort to put the brakes on this influence and this disinformation leading up to the election.”

“I don’t know what else to call it except for an attempt,” Crenshaw said. “It’s a last minute attempt and it certainly is a very limited attempt when ads that were placed before this period of time are still allowed to run.”

Civil Rights trail adds 12 new sites with focus on education struggle

By Noah Fleischman, Capital News Service

RICHMOND, Va. -- The half-mile road leading to a park in Prince Edward County was packed with cars parked on one side and a park ranger directing traffic on the other side. This was a normal 1950s summer day at what was then the only state park for African Americans in Virginia.

Prince Edward State Park for Negroes, as it was then called, could draw up to a thousand African American visitors per day that could rent bathing suits and cabins overnight.

“It was a place for people to recreate and be—they didn’t have that opportunity in other places,” recounted Veronica Flick, Twin Lakes State Park manager.

Prince Edward State Park was adjacent to Goodwin Lake Recreational Area where only whites patrons were allowed. The two areas merged and were renamed Twin Lakes State Park in 1986, according to the park’s website.

Twin Lakes is one of 12 new sites added this fall to the Virginia’s Crossroads Civil Rights in Education Heritage Trail spanning Central and Southern Virginia. The trail was established in 2004 and focuses on the struggle African Americans, Native Americans and women faced to receive an education in the commonwealth.

The parks were built by the Civilian Conservation Corps, a program established by Congress to help men find work during the Great Depression. Twin Lakes was added to the trail because of the education the CCC provided to African Americans who helped build the park in the 1930s. The builders were taught framing and roofing skills, Flick said.

“In ‘those days,’ education was the most important and it was denied,” said Magi Van Eps, tourism coordinator for Prince Edward County. “If you were not a white male, you didn’t have access to an education.”

The impact of being on the trail brings more attention to Twin Lakes and its history, Flick said.

“For us to be a part of this trail, it not only brings more awareness to what the history of this park is, and its importance to so many people,” Flick said.

The park has added roadside historical markers, explaining the origins of Prince Edward State Park. One sign on the grounds of the park tells the story of Maceo Martin, who sued the state when he was denied access to Staunton River State Park. The lawsuit led Virginia to add the Prince Edward State Park for African American visitors to follow the “separate but equal” law at the time.

The trail also has added stops at Greensville County Training School in Emporia and Buckingham Training School in Dillwyn, according to Van Eps. The sites were Rosenwald schools, established by former Sears President Julius Rosenwald and Booker T. Washington to help Southern, African American children and teenagers receive an education.

The expansion of the trail 16 years after its establishment was a result of additional funding. The trail was originally envisioned to have more than 60 sites, Van Eps said. Instead, the trail was only able to add 41 sites using a grant from the Virginia Department of Transportation.

“There were all these other sites that were still very important, but they were overlooked at that time just because there wasn’t enough funding to fund them all,” Van Eps said.

After receiving $70,000 in funding from the Virginia Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission in 2020 the trail was able to add a dozen more sites. Virginia’s Crossroads matched the Virginia Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission funding.

The L.E. Coleman African-American Museum in Halifax and the Beneficial Benevolent Society of the Loving Sisters and Brothers of Hampden Sydney in Prince Edward County were also added to the trail during the expansion. Bobby Conner, who helped found James Solomon Russell-Saint Paul’s College Museum and Archives, another site on the trail that displays the history of the historically Black college that closed in 2013, said the additions couldn’t have happened at a better time.

“The expansion of it has come at a perfect time with everything that’s gone on this past spring,” Conner said, referring to the protests that took place in Virginia and around the country after George Floyd’s death in police custody in Minnesota.

“Anybody that goes along this trail will learn incredible amounts of history on what the struggle was from right after the Civil War all the way up until recently,” Conner said.

‘Never really off the clock’: Bringing the Newsroom Home During COVID-19

Marc Davis, sports director at NBC12, is working remotely and has adapted to working from home and using the social distancing guidelines while doing his job.

By Noah Fleischman, Capital News Service

RICHMOND, Va. -- Marc Davis closes his laptop in his one-bedroom apartment and turns on the television. His day at work is over, but his work mind hasn’t shut off. His office for the time being, like many in America, is in the kitchen.

Davis, the sports director at NBC 12 (WWBT-TV) in Richmond, said on a normal day when he’s not at work he checks his phone periodically just to keep an eye on the developing news. Now, since he’s working from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic, separating work and home has become more difficult.

“The days feel longer,” Davis said. “You can’t really separate that work space from home space.”

His station started telework almost five weeks ago and Davis found ways to take his mind off work: putting the phone down across the room and playing a game of MLB The Show or spending time with his girlfriend.

“I’ve just been making sure that I get the time to myself when I’m not working,” Davis said. “Just kind of tune out work for a little bit instead of constantly looking at my phone or Twitter or something like that.”

Davis is like many other reporters in Virginia and around the nation working from home during the coronavirus outbreak. Wayne Epps Jr., the Virginia Commonwealth University sports beat writer for the Richmond Times-Dispatch, has worked from home for the past month.

Epps said the transition has been smooth, partly because he’s used to working remotely from games.

“The fortunate thing for me and some other writers is that we did work from home or away from the office [at arenas, for example] often anyway, so we already had everything we needed to work from home,” Epps wrote in a Twitter direct message.

Epps has conducted all of his interviews over the phone or used Zoom to respect the social distancing guidelines.

Since sports ground to a halt, reporters have come up with creative stories and segments. Davis has covered sports angles in the coronavirus stories. When Home Team Grill in Richmond closed due to the pandemic, Davis used it as a way to show how the NCAA men’s basketball tournaments help drive local business.

“As a sports guy, you’ve got to be able to adjust and be flexible and show that you can do different things and different types of journalism,” Davis said.

Epps and the Richmond Times-Dispatch sports department have chronicled different sports rivalries in Virginia since there are no games occurring.

After returning to Richmond from Brooklyn, New York, where he was covering the Atlantic 10 men’s basketball tournament, Davis jumped in to help the news department with its coronavirus coverage.

Davis hadn’t covered non-sports news in years, but he used his experience as a news photographer from his first year in the television business.

“You’re dealing with different topics, different things, people who may be a little more sensitive to the topic you’re talking about,” Davis said. “There’s a lot we do in sports that can also apply to news as well.”

Davis made news packages for two weeks, helping with the coronavirus coverage. Then, he went back to making sports packages, but tied them back to the coronavirus, including how coronavirus has impacted a local gym.

Davis follows guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control, and conducts most interviews through video conferencing applications such as Zoom or FaceTime. Davis said he wasn’t fond of virtual interviews before the COVID-19 pandemic, opting to do his interviews in person.

Now, he leaves it up to the interview subject to decide if they want to do it online or in person.

“I will do whatever makes you comfortable,” Davis said. “It’s probably going to change the ways I have when it goes back to normal, being open [to virtual interviews].”

Davis said he conducted five interviews using video conferencing in a week alone.

Davis doesn’t know when things will return to normal and he can return back to his desk, but for now he’s working to balance work and home life.

“We work in a business that you never really turn off,” Davis said. “Stories are always happening, there’s always things to keep an eye on. You might get home, but you’re never really all the way off the clock.”

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