PEJ: Campaign News All Style, No Substance

Project for Excellence in Journalism: Reporting on presidential campaign virtually all about convention buzz, almost nothing about policy issues last week.

The Project for Excellence in Journalism said reporting on the presidential campaign was virtually all about the convention buzz and almost nothing about policy issues last week (Aug. 25-31).

Stories about the race accounted for 69% of the news hole, according to a PEJ news analysis of major broadcast, cable, print and online news outlets. That was the highest percentage since the PEJ began tracking the campaign coverage in January 2007, topping the 55% taken up by Super Tuesday coverage.

The second-most-covered story of the week was Hurricane Gustav, but with only 7% of the news hole.

But of that 69% devoted to campaign coverage, only 1% of the news hole was devoted to policy issues surrounding the campaign.

Not surprisingly, coverage of the Democratic National Convention in Denver dominated the campaign news, at least until Sen. John McCain's (R-Ariz.) surprise vice-president pick. Democratic nominee Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) was a "significant" or "dominant" factor in 57% of election stories, with McCain factoring in only 25%.

The Democratic convention itself was the story line for reports accounting for 25% of the news hole, with Obama's speech claiming another 10% (Nielsen said it was seen by 38 million people, a record for a convention speech, according the to PEJ), Michelle Obama's speech another 5% and the ailing Sen. Ted Kennedy's (Mass.) appearance another 2%.

But while coverage of Democratic VP pick Sen. Joe Biden (Del.) claimed 8% of the news hole, McCain's pick of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as VP Saturday morning was dominant in 12% of the stories. That was about the same percentage of stories that focused on Sen. Hillary Clinton's (N.Y.) role in the Democratic convention.