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Earned Media

In political parlance, “earned media” refers to coverage or publicity that is not directly paid for by a campaign or political party, but rather is the result of news outlets covering events organically.

Unlike “paid media,” such as advertisements or sponsored content, earned media is often seen as more credible because it is ostensibly the product of independent journalistic scrutiny or public interest.

However, its impact can be double-edged; while positive earned media can greatly amplify a campaign’s message or bolster a politician’s image, negative coverage can have detrimental effects on public perception and electoral outcomes.


For savvy political operators, understanding the news agenda and identifying opportunities to insert themselves into the existing narrative can generate substantial earned media with minimal investment.

Timing is crucial here.

Whether it’s a well-placed op-ed, a newsworthy public appearance, or announcement of a listening tour, capturing the zeitgeist can yield exponential returns in terms of exposure and public engagement.

Moreover, earned media often serves as the raw material for social media conversations, creating a feedback loop that amplifies the original message.

In the age of viral content, a single news story can become the source of numerous social media posts, memes, and community discussions, multiplying its impact far beyond the initial audience.

However, there are downsides.

Relying too heavily on earned media can cede control of the message to external parties, including journalists with their own perspectives and biases, or even to political opponents eager to seize on any missteps.

Furthermore, an overemphasis on earning media coverage can encourage sensationalism over substance, as the race for headlines may overshadow nuanced policy discussion.

More on “Earned Media”

News media coverage, as opposed to “paid media”—TV commercials, radio spots and other advertising.

“Earned media is extremely valuable and also the hardest to garner consistently,” said Reed Galen, a GOP political consultant. “For candidates and campaigns without a lot of money, free press coverage is their main avenue to contacting voters. However, it is more difficult in that the campaign doesn’t control the message, opponents are often given an opportunity to respond and the press can be notoriously fickle—deciding whether or not to cover a candidate based on their chances of winning.”

From Doubletalk © 2016 Chuck McCutcheon and David Mark.

Use of “Earned Media” in a sentence

  • The campaign’s unexpected primary win generated a significant amount of earned media, providing a much-needed boost in visibility ahead of the general election.
  • After the senator’s impassioned speech on climate change went viral, the earned media not only elevated her profile but also shifted the public conversation toward environmental issues.
  • Critics argue that the candidate’s controversial statements, though damaging in some respects, have succeeded in capturing an inordinate amount of earned media, thus overshadowing his opponents in the news cycle.