News Study Pulled No Punches
Editor: In an editorial (“An Incomplete Guide,” 2/21, page 44) that calls into question the very competence of its authors, the editors of this trade publication attacked a research report on local television coverage of politics that I helped direct.
The editorial starts with a bizarre conspiracy theory questioning my integrity because the University of Wisconsin at Madison is “arguably the cradle of anti-consolidation sentiment.” It frankly took me a little while to figure that one out. After asking around, I learned that a major national conference did take place on the Madison campus in November of 2003. All sorts of conferences take place here at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, and I'm not sure why that one makes us “the cradle of anti-consolidation sentiment.”
In terms of my own personal connection to the conference and its agenda, there was none. I was not invited to the conference, did not go to the conference, and did not even know it was taking place. I have no position on media consolidation, and I dare you to find one statement I have ever made—in public, private, teaching or in my published work—about media consolidation. I am a professor in the Department of Political Science and director of the University of Wisconsin NewsLab, which is a research lab with no partisan or policy bent. Finally, none of my graduate-student staff attended the conference or have any position on the issue.
You argue that the research findings are a “sham” because the research only analyzed broadcasts [in 11 markets] aired between 5 p.m. and 11:30 p.m. We studied this time period because these are the hours broadcasters themselves suggested [in 1999's Gore Commission report] would best demonstrate their commitment to cover campaign news.
As your editorial points out, we have an obligation to be “fair, accurate and as complete as possible.” We have more than met this obligation. The title of our report is “Local News Coverage of the 2004 Campaigns: An Analysis of Nightly Broadcasts in 11 Markets.” Do you really believe that we tried to pull the wool over people's eyes with such a title? We have never claimed that our report provides more than an in-depth analysis of these 11 markets. We have never claimed that we were able to capture every single election story aired on every single station.
Anyone who still has doubts about what the study actually did should go to www.localnewsarchive.org.
Kenneth M. Goldstein, Professor, political science, Director, University of Wisconsin NewsLab