Sunday, November 16, 2014

Sunday November 16, 2014 A GreenLight Media Perspective

Opinion by: Eugene Webb PhD

Generally the carping about the GreenLight sales tax massive defeat has subsided. There are a number of lessons to be learned from this referendum, many by the politicians and planners but there is also an interesting media conundrum in the GreenLight outcome.

The two large print media out lets in Pinellas County, the Tampa Bay Times and the St. Petersburg Tribune, openly supported the GreenLight referendum.  Both laid out strong supporting editorial positions and neither gave much detailed coverage to the opposition.

The local electronic media, with the exception of 10 News, while generally supportive of Greenlight, also gave only passing coverage of the opposition.

Mainstream media passed off No Tax for Tracks as an underfunded, grassroots, tea party, and extremist effort with little chance of success.

That million dollars of GreenLight campaign money could also have put some stars.... eer dollar signs in mainstream media's eyes.

Local social media, for the most part, was where the GreenLight opposition made its media case. 

With the exception of the area's largest social media site, stpetersblog, local social media bloggers were those presenting the opposition's case. Even though stpetersblog's publisher supported GreenLight, the Blog's coverage tended to be reasonably balanced.

When you add up about 6000 yard signs, numerous appearances by No Tax for Tracks supporters, 3 or 4 local social media sites and about $100,000 in campaign contributions and compare that to the support of both local newspapers including editorials, a good chunk of the electronic media, some of the biggest power players in the County, over $1 Million dollars in campaign contributions and a stunning defeat, it is no wonder some people are scratching their heads and asking some questions.

There is no question the sales tax referendum was one of the worst referendums ever concocted in Pinellas County, but the fact is along with good grassroots politics, social media was the only place people could get the true facts about GreenLight in their homes.

Patch, Eye on Tampa Bay, The Sunbeam Times and Bay Post Internet  were the social media sites that consistently presented the GreenLight facts, uncovered illegal activities at the PSTA and exposed the poor management lack of control at the PSTA.

With the Tampa Bay Times in business trouble laying off staff and borrowing money to operate, and the Tribune now reducing staff, the status of print media and its relevance to the pulse of the community are really in question.

I would not be naive enough to think that social media was the primary reason GreenLight failed. But when the GreenLight facts were presented in a social media format election results and page view statistics tell a startling story.

Next election cycle I suspect that the public will be looking to social media once again for the comments, opinions and facts they can count on.

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