New York Times reporter Katherine Q. Seelye has a short article flagging a new study of campaign coverage, conducted 1/1 to 5/31 by the Pew Research Center Project for Excellence in Journalism and Harvard’s Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy. The study will likely get a fair amount of buzz, despite the very limited representation of just five websites in the survey (AOL, MSNBC, CNN, Yahoo and Google).
There were no big shockers in the survey, which found that horse race stories accounted for 63 percent of all reports surveyed, up from 55 percent in ’04 and ’00, In terms of coverage, Clinton got the most, Obama got the most favorable and McCain got the most negative coverage. The candidates’ track records received only 1 percent of coverage — I would have guessed maybe a little more. Conservative spinmeisters will undoubtedly make much of the fact the Dems got more coverage than Repubs (49-31 percent of stories), but that will likely even out before long.
To be fair to the survey sponsors, it would be impossible to do a full-scale study of political coverage, particularly on the internet, so vast and diverse is the relevant content. But it is misleading to suggest the findings of five websites, none of which are dedicated to political reporting, is somehow representative of the scope of campaign coverage on the internet. In light of this shortcoming, make what you will of the overview bullet point about the approaches of different media categories:
There were also distinct coverage differences in different media. Newspapers were more positive than other media about Democrats and more citizen-oriented in framing stories. Talk radio was more negative about almost every candidate than any other outlet. Network television was more focused than other media on the personal backgrounds of candidates. For all sectors, however, strategy and horse race were front and center.
Shortcomings notwithstanding, the study has some insights for campaign strategy in dealing with reporters of different media, although most savvy flacks of the candidates will not be too surprised at the survey findings. For an interesting alternative view of media coverage, check out another Pew Research Center study on a related topic “Internet News Audience Highly Critical of News Organizations,” conducted in July.