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‘Yelling into an echo chamber doesn’t get you anywhere,’ Clark tells Conservatives ‘to engage’ broadly in the age of social media

By Rachel Aiello      

Media and politicos offer tips to Conservatives on how to communicate powerfully in the social media age.

Political communications: Panellists at the political communications panel, pictured Feb. 25, at the Manning Centre Conference, Global Public Affairs' Tom Clark, Global News' Vassy Kapelos, and BuzzFeed's Elamin Abdelmahmoud, with moderator Paul Bunner, editor of C2C Journal, a Manning Centre publication. The Hill Times photograph by Rachel Aiello
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OTTAWA—In a time of traditional media concentration and the proliferation of online digital news, the Conservative Party’s best bet for success will be to move beyond communicating with “friendly” publications and engage broadly, said former veteran journalist Tom Clark at the Manning Conference’s panel on political communications in the age of social media on Saturday.

“You need others, so the word is engage, engage, engage, and don’t narrow it down to just those publications or those sites that seem to be politically friendly to you, because yelling into an echo chamber doesn’t get you anywhere,” said Mr. Clark, who is now chair of public affairs and communications at Global Public Affairs in Ottawa, to the room full of Conservatives who came to hear about the transformation of the media landscape and its impact on political communications.

Global News Ottawa Bureau Chief Vassy Kapelos and Elamin Abdelmahmoud, editor of BuzzFeed News, joined Mr. Clark on the panel which was moderated by Paul Bunner, editor of C2C Journal, a Manning Centre publication.

The panellists talked about what Conservatives can do both on the political side and as news consumers to get their voices heard in today’s media landscape.

Despite losing the last federal election, Ms. Kapelos said federal Conservatives and Conservative leadership candidates have made progress with the media post-2015 election. As a reporter who covered the last election campaign, Ms. Kapelos experienced frustration trying to interview Conservatives during the last election when only a handful of people were allowed to speak for the party.

“Sometimes it was just so frustrating to interview … whomever from the Conservative Party was being put up, because you would ask a question and you know there are three lines that they are supposed to say and the lines would come out for every single question,” said Ms. Kapelos. “I know there’s a certain strategy to that, but in the end, I think if you look at their interviews as opposition MPs where they’re not handcuffed by those talking points, they’re actually far more effective.”

While Ms. Kapelos said it’s too early to predict the big issues in the 2019 election, she said Conservatives should focus on the issues they’re strong on like taxes, defence, and to some extent, ethics.

On the question of what to do with populism the new style of political communication that helped bring U.S. President Donald Trump to power, Mr. Abdelmahmoud said he has a sense it won’t play out well with urban millennials, if that’s one of the groups the party is trying to target.

“A lot of people have been waiting a little while for a Conservative version of a Politico in the U.S., or a BuzzFeed kind-of place,” Mr. Abdelmahmoud said. “They haven’t really gained the kind of traction that liberal media online has.”

At that point, The Rebel TV personality Faith Goldy shouted out from the back of the room “The Rebel, we have 600,000 subscribers, we’re doing very well!” Mr. Abdelmahmoud didn’t agree the example, saying he doesn’t think there’s a place that has become a home for conservative ideas online yet, but instead has seized on some stories in the populist movement.

Mr. Abdelmahmoud said BuzzFeed’s perception as being left-leaning can likely be attributed to the types of stories they usually cover, which is dictated by what their audience says they want to read, something others should take note of.

“The populism comes from an anger that really doesn’t take you anywhere, at the end of the day,” said Mr. Clark, agreeing with Mr. Abdelmahmoud’s point.

“In terms of how you communicate, look at the power of BuzzFeed … it doesn’t mean that you cut it off from the conventional world,” said Mr. Clark. “I think there are still a lot of tools out there available for communication, that it’s a question of using it wisely.”

Editor’s note: The story originally incorrectly reported the number of Rebel subscribers. The story has been corrected and updated.


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