Tuesday, January 22, 2008

TV News Covers 'Baloney' In Campaign For President

The commentary on how television news departments are covering the race for the Presidency is certainly scathing -- but it sure isn't news to viewers. Writing for the Indianapolis Star, professor Jeffrey McCall cites several studies which reveal how little is being reported and the trend instead to air puff pieces of no consequence:

At this time last year, Federal Communications Commission commissioner Michael Copps told a media reform conference that the broadcast media should do more to strengthen our democracy. He criticized the television news industry for giving the public “too much baloney passed off as news.”

Sadly, the evidence since that speech indicates that Copps’ critique remains quite valid. From superficial coverage of elections to hyped-up coverage of celebrity scandals, the broadcast news industry continues to give the citizenry a news agenda that degrades the conversation of democracy.

Recent studies clearly indicate the public’s disappointment with coverage of the presidential campaign. A report released late last fall from the Harvard Center for Public Leadership said that about two-thirds of the public does not trust the media’s campaign coverage. Sixty percent said the reporting is biased, and 88 percent said the campaign coverage focused on trivial issues.

The Center for Media and Public Affairs analyzed 481 election stories aired October through December on the evening news shows of the big three networks and Fox News Channel. The CMPA study showed that more stories were aired about the candidates’ campaign strategies than about their policy positions. More than a third of all stories focused on polling and the horse-race angle of the campaign.

The public wants a different kind of TV election coverage. A recent study by the Pew Research Center found that 80 percent of Americans want more coverage of where candidates stand on issues and more coverage of lesser-known candidates. This is not likely to happen any time soon. It is easier and cheaper to cover elections with a template that tells us where a particular prominent candidate is, which celebrity appeared with the candidate, the latest poll numbers, and who feels momentum. It is more sensational to show and analyze Hillary’s teary eyes than detail her policy initiatives."

Read the entire commentary here.

Also worth considering is this question - Does the news matter to anyone anymore?

That's being asked by David Simon, a former journalist and now executive producer for HBO's "Wired" TV show. Simon writes:

Isn’t the news itself still valuable to anyone? In any format, through any medium — isn’t an understanding of the events of the day still a salable commodity? Or were we kidding ourselves? Was a newspaper a viable entity only so long as it had classifieds, comics and the latest sports scores?"

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