Despite transforming itself from “the place for politics” to a shamelessly left-leaning political media outlet while in the midst of an almost constant struggle with CNN for second place in the cable news ratings war, MSNBC has managed to stay relevant in the world of political news by using one weird trick: blanketing the airwaves with politicians and journalists from D.C. and New York who practically live on Twitter.
With Jeff Zucker’s CNN drifting away from politics and toward celebrity stories and true crime — and Fox News sticking closely to its stable of “Republican strategists” and in-house conservative pundits — MSNBC has its pick of the entire political press corps. And it has made itself central to the online political conversation by sending its black town cars to collect younger, web-savvy politicos who spend all day chattering about the ins and outs of the game online.
The most notable example of their model is the almost constant presence of two of D.C.’s most influential political media outlets on the network — The Washington Post and Politico.
More than a few Washington Post reporters, like blogger king Chris Cillizza and Nia-Malika Henderson, are almost ubiquitous with the network’s programming, sometimes making multiple appearances on different shows throughout the day and night. Some Post employees moonlight as paid MSNBC contributors, meaning you’ll definitely see Ezra Klein, Jonathan Capehart, Gene Robinson, or all three on any given day.
Politico’s deal with MSNBC seems quite different, even though the desired results are the same for the network. Including the longtime branded “Playbook” segment on Morning Joe, Politico blankets MSNBC’s dayside programming — literally from dawn to dusk — with its reporters, minus that pesky “contributor” status.
To get an idea of how ubiquitous Politico is on MSNBC, compare its total appearances on the network over a four-month period with that of CNN. Note: Fox News has a reported “lifetime ban” on Politico:
The recent revelations about how TV programming causes tweets — and vice versa — means that a strategy of constantly featuring young, Twitter native, Beltway journalists is a smart one for a cable news network that is focused on politics, especially in preparation for the ‘16 presidential election.
But as much as this method seems to be working, MSNBC might be throwing a wrench into the smoothly running machine. Its hiring spree that brought top journalists from liberal outlets in to write for the the network’s revamped website and to contribute regularly to on-air programming might be a huge turn-off to a Beltway audience that is tuning in to see themselves.
To counteract this possible side effect, MSNBC would be wise to consider an increase in appearances from young journalists on the right who are dying to debate these issues with their ideological foes. They’re all on Twitter, and a contentious segment is always a great way to have your brand blow up on Twitter. With a wide open field on both sides of the 2016 presidential election, MSNBC could benefit from making more booking deals similar to what it has with Politico and the Post, and become the unofficial cable news network for Washington, D.C.