Iam embarrassed that the University of Wisconsin attached its name to the study performed by the UW-NewsLab regarding local television news coverage of campaign issues from Sept. 7 to Oct. 6 this year.
There is little use citing the statistics of the study—they look bad. They ignore morning and noon newscasts, and newscasts at 5 p.m. and 9 p.m. (Central Time). It also didn’t count weekend public-affairs programming, free-time offers to candidates or debate coverage.
The study only analyzed the 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. (Central) news shows, which is much like saying the 20th century history of the United States began and ended with Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal. NewsLab may think it’s a big deal, but it’s not the whole deal—not by a long shot.
In defending the study, UW-NewsLab officials talked out of several sides of their mouth. They said that, in a perfect world, they would have looked at all dayparts. They said that most people get their news from the 6 and 10 p.m. news shows (though a Ball State study in 2004 concluded that more people watch the news from 6 to 10 in the morning). They said news shows don’t provide adequate election coverage because their stories don’t cover substantive issues (but their research didn’t either since it didn’t include any long-form or program-length coverage).
On the very last day of NewsLab’s study, Oct. 6, the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association Foundation sponsored a statewide broadcast debate between the two leading candidates for governor. Thirty-two television stations, more than one in each market in all cases, aired the debate, 24 that evening and eight on a delayed basis throughout the weekend.
In Milwaukee, the state’s only metered market, the debate had a 5.2 rating (about 115,000 viewers) and was the second-highest-rated show in its time period. Weekend broadcasts, it’s fair to say, reached 1 million people in Wisconsin that weekend.
The NewsLab researchers, while claiming that news shows offer little election coverage substance, ignored the debate. Isn’t that substance? As the organizer of that broadcast debate, how do I tell my members that their airing of the debate did not count?
As a UW grad and representative of the broadcast industry in Wisconsin, and normally proud of them both, I would ask the researchers at the UW-NewsLab to straighten out their methodology before their next assault on local news.