Politics is good business at Ch. 5

In the media, we like to think there’s a bright line between the advertising and news sides, sort of a “church and state and never the twain shall meet” wall.

But it appears with the retrenchment of traditional media outlets in political coverage and trying to hold onto readers and viewers, that may be changing, at least in perception.

WCVB-TV  reporter Janet Wu, the doyenne of the television political reporters, says when she first started, she was told to just chase stories and don’t worry about the other stuff. But now, Wu says she’s on the daily email list of the advertising and management folks feeding her information about who is watching and who is paying to reach them.

“Four years ago, eight years ago, I would have never been aware of what the TV political ad sales were at my television station,” said Wu, at a MassINC- and CommonWealth-sponsored “Starting Line” forum at Suffolk University Wednesday. “Now I am totally aware of it.  I remember when I first went to Channel 5 years ago, I was told by the news director, ‘Don’t worry about the numbers, don’t worry about the demographics, the number of people from 18 to 48 who watch Channel 5, that’s for business, you just go out and cover the news.’  Now I get emails on it from, you know, the people upstairs. It’s a different business.”

Wu says the push is not only about viewers but attracting campaign commercials as well. “They’ve told me they really want me concentrating on politics,” says Wu, one of the last remaining regular television reporters on Beacon Hill.

The three other members of the panel, Hilary Chabot of the Boston Herald, Scott Lehigh of The Boston Globe and Craig Sandler of State House News Service, said their organizations were focusing on politics despite dwindling resources. “We’re doing more with less,” says Lehigh. “Sometimes we’re doing less with less.”

Sullivan is senior investigative reporter at CommonWealth magazine. Information from State House News Service was used in this report.

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