How the new leader of The Hill, NewsNation views politics, PR and media success
And a tiny sneak peek for what to expect from Election 2024 coverage.
It’s been a rocky 21st century for the news media, and the last year hasn’t offered any reprieve.
Media organizations old and new have seen layoffs and bankruptcies — and some have just closed shop altogether.
Add that to a deeply polarized landscape where journalists themselves often become the story, a looming election and it’s a daunting time to take the helm of a political news organization. But that’s exactly where Joe Ruffolo, senior vice president and general manager for The Hill and NewsNation Digital, finds himself.
But he’s not scared.
“There’s obviously a huge transition, but we’ve been doing very well on both sides of my position here,” Ruffolo told PR Daily during a recent interview. “Obviously we’ve seen positive traffic and outreach, but also from our advertising partners, I see a lot of strength in that as well.”
Ruffolo’s career in media has spanned nearly 30 years and the entire evolution of digital news, from his early career at CNN to stints with ABC News, AOL and MTV Networks. Most recently, he served as managing director for OceanX.
“I sometimes laugh to myself, when you really look at how far (digital media) has come since the earliest days of CNN Interactive, and how enormous and just the fundamental behavior of most people’s news consumption has become on the digital side,” Ruffolo said.
He’s currently tasked with finding a way to bring non-partisan news to people at a time when almost nothing feels non-partisan. But that makes the work they do even more important.
As Ruffolo has talked to regular people about his new role, he said he’s heard the same complaints: I don’t feel informed, I don’t know what’s actually happening because I don’t know who to trust.
Ruffolo, perhaps idealistically, believes that a focus on the fundamentals of journalism and what matters most to people can give them reasons to trust again both The Hill and NewsNation, he says, thrive when they focus on making the details digestible — and even pushing beyond the overtly political coverage they’re so known for.
“I think sometimes we can get caught up in just a few big stories that the media likes to talk about. But when you really get into the economy, and health and education and all those real issues that actually impact people’s lives, I think that’s what’s being left out,” Ruffolo said. True bias, he believes, comes from story selection and what news outlets choose to cover and choose not to cover.
You can expect to find broader coverage on both news outlets in the coming months, including on topics like what it means to be a parent, health and mental health struggles, and more — which means more pitching opportunities for PR pros. Ruffolo wants that collaboration.
“We’re trying to be a little more proactive and putting out more information around what we are doing,” Ruffolo said. “But I really would like to just be a little more interactive with people on ideas … trying to talk to as many people as I can.”
Looking ahead to 2024
Ruffolo wasn’t quite ready to share the outlets’ plans for 2024 presidential coverage — stay tuned in the next few months for that. But he did reveal that video will lead the way in coverage. Look for big things from The Hill TV, their YouTube channels and NewsNation.
NewsNation, he explained, benefits from having the infrastructure of Nexstar behind them to help distribute programming like “The Hill on NewsNation” to a broader audience.
“What you’ll see us continue to do is elevate all those different local pieces as much as we can to really answer what people care about,” Ruffolo said.
The metrics they use to determine what people care about vary. Obviously, web traffic is an important, if blunt measurement of success. But it’s far from the only metric he cares about.
“I also look at just the journalism of what we do,” he explained. “I think it’s very important that we do have a great diversity of stories. So not everything can actually be judged by traffic.”
The Hill’s Cheyanne M. Daniels and Alex Rosenwald will speak at PR Daily’s Media Relations Conference in Washington, D.C. on June 6. Register today.
Allison Carter is executive editor of PR Daily. Follow her on Twitter or LinkedIn.
It’s tempting to think of what’s in this for us but think of what’s in this for HIM.
He needs readers and names make news so we can help him by having releases with the names of important leaders because they’ll care and they’ll read and he’ll love it.
He needs advertisers so we can help—not only in what we send him but even more in things we send major potential advertisers—information he’d love for them to know because it could boost his revenue. What advertisers care about is that he does in truth reach government people cared about by giant organizations eager to make important things happen!
He needs for media to refer often to his publications, so we can score points with him by helping him score points in media by referring to his publications in our releases.
Give and ye shall receive, it is written. By giving him more visibility among potential readers, advertisers and media, we may both give and receive. Give him a call to ask for his rate card so you can help to spread the word of what he has that people want and need.
He and others may look like far-sighted savants if they predict that even if the Washington spending compromise doesn’t get prompt approval, we won’t have for more than a couple of days anything like an economic explosion.
Look on Google at the five or ten most widely held stocks. Once the
momentary terror and forecasts of doom are behind us, does anyone responsible really think that holders of those shares will sell them for half of their price last week? Or that our government won’t pay Social Security pensioners their monthly money? Or that doctors and hospitals will really think that government and insurers won’t pay?
Rumor widely repeated and quoted can almost create economic terror but my Wharton degree in Economics suggests that rumor of catastrophe should call to mind the Italian phrase, “far rumore” which means making noise.