Over in one of the threads, political scientist Carl Scott referenced the shrinking of the mainstream media. He is certainly right when you look at the long-term ratings trends of the CBS Evening News or the prime time line up of the old big three networks. But I don't take much solace from that decline. My sense is that the decline of the mainsteam media and the resulting audience fragmentation is going to make it harder for conservatives messages to reach certain segments of the population.
The old MSM sure wasn't fair. I remember being in seventh grade and reading a Time magazine story about abortion. I didn't know what abortion was. At the end of the really long story I still didn't know what abortion was, but I knew that people who were against abortion were bad. It wasn't like the story outright told you to dislike them but the message got across.
But even though the coverage wasn't fair, the vast size of the MSM's audience, its commercial orientation and certain journalistic conventions that predominately liberal journalist felt they had to follow gave conservatives the space to get their message out. If you had the money to but ads, you could be pretty sure that most people would hear your thirty second (or thirty minute) message. The interviews for conservative figures might have been more hostile than the ones for liberal figures, but at least people got to see you and the hostility was usually limited to subtle cues (an exception being Bryant Gumbel, who usually didn't bother to disguise his detestation of center-right figures.) Even an overtly hostile interview could play to a center-right figure's advantage as George H.W. Bush and Dan Rather could tell you. Certain conventions where journalists were discouraged from openly taking sides and were obligated to describe center-right arguments, and provide coverage and interviews for center-right figures usually put boundaries on a press corps with liberal defaults. That these conventions allowed conservative messages to reach the public has been bitterly noted by liberal media critics who wanted the media to more overtly side with liberal partisans. Even when the MSM clearly took sides (as in the 1964 presidential campaign), if you had the money, you could buy a thirty minute ad that could make a huge impression on people who never thought of themselves as conservatives
The decline of the MSM, rise of the right-leaning media and the fragmentation of audience into small pockets that consume formally "nonpolitical" media has made it much easier to mobilize right-leaning Americans even as it has made it much harder for conservative messages to reach that majority of Americans that don't consume right-leaning media. Reaching that majority is now tougher because it means fighting for space in hundreds of outlets that aren't overtly political. These media often have a celebrity, lifestyle or ethnic/racial focus. The defaults of those who produce the media are probably liberal, and those producers can, by their occasional interventions into political issues, shape the political orientation of their media consumers. The most obvious example was the US Weekly "Babies, Lies and Scandal" cover story on Sarah Palin. This helped shape the perceptions of people who don't follow much "news." While reading my wife's Parenting magazine (don't judge me!) I was struck by an explanation of Obamacare that read like a paid advertisement. It didn't seem "political." It was just telling busy middle- class women (and me apparently) how a new law was going to change the lives of their families.
Twenty years ago you could count on at least reaching those people by ads during popular programs. Today it is much tougher not only because of audience fragmentation, but because it is easier to skip ads. Getting conservative messages into the forums that people are consuming will require different techniques than the ones that conservatives developed to deal with their relative weakness in the old MSM. It doesn't matter so much now that the economy is so bad, the turnout model for the November elections favors Republicans and the right-leaning media is able to help mobilize tens of millions of voters. But reaching those tens of millions who aren't being reached now is a major long-term problem with no obvious solution.