Midwest TV station evening and late newscasts averaged a minute and 43 seconds of campaign coverage vs. four and a half minutes of paid political ads in the 30 days before the midterm elections.
That is according to a study by the University of Wisconsin's NewsLab for its Midwest News Index, and ongoing study of local TV news in Minnesota, Michigan. Illinois, Ohio and Wisconsin.
That election coverage was up "considerably" from the initial study of the same set of newscast on 28 network affiliates for the previous 30 days (Sept. 7-Oct. 6), according to the study. But the study also said that most of the coverage (68%) was devoted to so-called horse race issues like polls and campaign strategies rather than policy issues (17%).
And there was even some spillover of political advertising into the news hole, with over 10% of the stories at least mentioning, and some focusing, on political ads.
The study only looked at seven of nine planned markets--with data "not available" from Springfield, Ill., or Lansing, Mich.
The study was backed by media consolidation critic, The Joyce Foundation, whose VP Larry Hansen said the findings were troubling. He said it showed that most people were getting their campaign information from ads--many of them "outlandish and negative"-- rather than from hard news stories. "In the end, well-funded candidates and local broadcasters win while voters, most candidates and democracy lose."
The National Association of Broadcasters has called similar studies by NewsLab "blatantly biased and fundamentally flawed," pointing out that they do not take into account morning or midday newscasts or campaign speech in other dayparts. Monitoring news has been one of the fastest-growing news day parts and where at least one study concludes most people are getting their TV news.
NAB took aim at Tuesday's announcement as well: "Once again, University of Wisconsin NewsLab researchers demonstrate a fundamental misunderstanding of how broadcasting works and how viewers get their news," said NAB spokesman Dennis Wharton. "Local stations air political coverage during many dayparts, and not just in the narrow time frame of weekday evening newscasts. By failing to acknowledge the totality of free air time freely given by broadcasters -- including morning news, noon news, weekend public affairs programming and televised debates -- these researchers do a huge disservice to the academic community. Bottom line: this is a shoddy and intellectually dishonest report from an agenda-driven organization." The
released Tuesday were part 2 of the election run-up study by NewsLab.