News You Can’t Use

If you haven’t had your daily dose of meta, check out the new study analyzing coverage of the 2008 presidential race, conducted by the Project for Excellence in Journalism . (If that’s not quite meta enough, read the coverage of the coverage of the coverage.) The study’s general findings:Democrats have gotten more coverage than Republicans in 2007; BarackObama hasn’t been able to translate positive news stories into gains inthe polls; and the media isn’t reporting what the public wants to hearabout. (They allegedly want substance, we give them horse-raceminutiae.)

But a few interesting details seem to have passed under our navel-gazing radar:

  • HillaryClinton and Rudy Giuliani have more negative coverage than positive.Yet they’re both still front-runners. How is that? Tom Rosenstiel,director of Project for Excellence in Journalism, suggested it’s theresult of the frontrunners getting “scrubbed a little harder thanothers.” He also pointed out that both candidates, being from New York,get more than the usual scrutiny from the New York Times , which tends to set the tone for networks, magazines, etc.

  • Most Americans claim they want more debate coverage. I blinked when I saw this. What about all that debate fatigue I hear about?

  • More coverage doesn’t necessarily mean better poll numbers—see the Obama example above—but it does correlate with higher name recognition. Hillary and Obama had more stories written about them than any other candidates. Likewise, 78 percent of Americans could name Hillary as a candidate, and 62 percent could name Obama—higher name recognition than any of the GOP candidates. So, if I’m reading this right: people pay attention to the media, they just don’t care what we say.—The Democrats drive a higher proportion of stories about themselves than the Republicans do. An analysis of “triggers”—what causes a story to be written—shows that 57 percent of stories about Dems are inspired by the candidate or the campaign, as opposed to 46 percent in the case of Republicans. Perhaps the “right-wing message machine” could use some repairs.