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The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


News broadcasts fail to deliver, study says

The average Midwestern television news broadcast devotes 36 seconds to election coverage during a 30-minute newscast, according to a new University of Wisconsin study released Thursday.

The study, conducted by the UW NewsLab and UW political science professor Kenneth Goldstein, analyzed newscasts in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan, Ohio and Illinois between Sept. 7 and Oct. 6. It reviewed newscasts from each state's capital and largest city.

According to the study, Madison stations had the highest amount of election coverage, averaging 65 seconds per 30-minute newscast. However, Madison newscasts also spent roughly seven minutes on sports and weather and over two minutes on crime-related stories.


"TV is acting as if it's allergic to democracy," said Mike McCabe, executive director for the political watchdog group the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign. "Democracy is being treated as a non-story, and that's a horrible message to send to a public in a democratic society."

The study was funded by the Chicago-based Joyce Foundation, which is also a sponsor of the WDC.

While Madison newscasts did spend more time than average covering elections, Goldstein said the majority of political segments fail to educate voters.

"What the [news] stories tended to focus on was more strategy and horse-race rather than more substantive issues," Goldstein said.

He added the results are disconcerting because most Americans get political information from local TV newscasts.

McCabe also said he is concerned.

"Not only is the quantity woefully inadequate, but the quality of coverage is also dismal," McCabe said.

In addition, results of the study show local broadcasts give more airtime to teasers and promos for upcoming stories than to politics. Typical early- and late-evening 30-minute news broadcasts also contain more than 10 minutes of advertisements.

Just over half of all newscasts contained one or more stories covering election-related issues, according to the study.

"Television stations have a responsibility to give people what they need to be informed citizens," McCabe said.

Lawrence Hansen, vice president of the Joyce Foundation, said local TV stations have a legal and civic obligation to inform voters about elections because they receive free use of public airwaves.

The WDC and the Joyce Foundation said they hope the study will push the news media to fulfill this responsibility.

"My impression is that some of these stations, including maybe even the ones in Madison, have been spurred on a bit by some of these analyses in the past," Hansen said.

Newscasts were reviewed in Madison, Milwaukee, Chicago, Springfield, Detroit, Lansing, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Cleveland and Columbus.

According to the report, TV newscasts in Milwaukee were in line with the 36-second average for election coverage. Newscasts in Minneapolis-St. Paul featured the second-most election coverage.

These findings are the first part of a series of analyses to be released through summer 2007. Subsequent releases will analyze the coverage of government activity in local news.

A second report covering the final month of the 2006 election will be released in mid-November.

"It's not too late for redemption," Hansen said. "There's three-and-a-half weeks left before this election."

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