Monday, February 14, 2005

Study Looks at Local Political News


“In the month leading up to last year's presidential election, local television stations in big cities devoted eight times as much air time to car crashes and other accidents than to campaigns for the House of Representatives, state senate, city hall and other local offices, according to a new study to be released tomorrow.

The study - which was carried out by researchers at the University of Wisconsin and Seton Hall University in South Orange, N.J., and led by the Norman Lear Center at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Southern California - analyzed more than 4,000 local newscasts that were broadcast in 11 major markets, including New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Miami, in the four weeks before the election.

It found that 8 percent of those broadcasts included a report about a local race. By contrast, more than half those broadcasts contained a report on the presidential race.

The apparent disparity between local and national political coverage at the local level is being added to the debate over how many television stations a company may own. Last week, the researchers filed their report with the Federal Communications Commission, which is in the midst of an inquiry into easing local ownership rules. ”

The study will be formally presented tomorrow at a news conference hosted by Senator John McCain of Arizona, a critic of efforts to ease restrictions on media ownership.

"I think most stations fear that covering politics is ratings poison," said Martin Kaplan, associate dean of the Annenberg School and one of the lead authors of the study. "Interestingly, they don't seem to fear that running a torrent of political ads hurts them with their audience."

Mr. Kaplan, who hosts a weekly program on "Air America," a liberal talk radio network, and his colleagues found that in the 11 markets studied, the hours of advertising by House candidates eclipsed actual coverage of those races by a ratio of 5 to 1.

Among the study's most jarring findings was in the Seattle market, where in the month before the gubernatorial election, which would turn out to be razor thin, 95 percent of the newscasts analyzed by the researchers had no reports on the race.

"Time spent on teasers, bumpers and intro music in Seattle outnumbered time covering the Washington gubernatorial race by 14 to 1," the researchers wrote.
con·cept: Study Looks at Local Political News