Mixed Returns for Campaign Coverage


In the four-week run-up to the November elections, almost two-thirds (64%) of all TV stations surveyed carried at least one campaign news story. That was up significantly from a 2002 study that pegged that number at 44%, but much of that increase was attributed to the presidential race in 2004.

More than half of local TV newscasts surveyed contained stories on the presidential race, while only 8% covered a local race, the study said. The average length of a campaign story was 86 seconds, but that was more than three times as much time as was devoted to the war in Iraq--25 seconds.

That is according to a study from Annenberg's Lear Center and the NewsLab at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Frequent campaign coverage critic John McCain plans to talk about the study at a press conference in Washington. The study was submitted to the FCC as part of the broadcast localism inquiry opened at about the same time the FCC passed its since-remanded deregulatory ownership rule rewrite.

The study found that there was 12 times more coverage of sports and weather than local races. Looking at Seattle, where the Governor's race turned on a few handfuls of votes out of millions, the study found that only 5% of the broadcasts had a story on the governor's race. For comparison purposes, the study said there were 14 times as much time devoted to teasers and bumper music for the local news as there was to stories on the governor's race.

In addition to the newscast coverage, the 44 stations surveyed aired a total of 231 hours of special political programming, including nine stations airing Senate debates and two airing house debates or joint appearances. There was also a town hall meeting and 23 minutes of free airtime outside of news broadcasts.

Generally to cover a race as a news event, it needed to be competitive, so some of the noncoverage was for races that were not deemed newsworthy. Stations singled out for covering local races even without a wealth of competitive races were KCCI Des Moines, KUSA Denver and WCBS New York.

The study covered 4,333 local evening newscasts (between 5 p.m.-11:30 p.m. of 44 affiliates of ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC in 11 markets: New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Dallas, Seattle, Miami, Denver, Orlando, Tampa, Dayton, and Des Moines. It also looked at special political programming outside those newscasts.