Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Issues, Not Presidential 'Horse Race,' Dominated Newspaper Space

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Issues, Not Presidential 'Horse Race,' Dominated Newspaper Space

Article excerpt

IN THE 1992 election, American newspapers devoted more space to campaign issues than they did to the presidential "horse race" according to the preliminary results of a semesterlong research project conducted last fall by a journalism class at Marshall University in Huntington, W. Va.

The students examined 470 Sunday editions of 11 newspapers. They looked at every Sunday issue of 10 papers published from Jan. 4 through Nov. 8 of 1992 and at the 20 issues of the Pittsburgh Press published before it was shut down.

The preliminary report is based on information from 146 of those 470 papers. The 146 papers are those for which students' analyses and the professor's analysis substantially agree. The other papers will be examined further before those results are included.

The newspapers examined published 17,049 column inches about presidential candidates, their tactics, their statements and their maneuvers. (That did not include about 700 column inches about Dan QuayIe, 400 column inches about Hillary Clinton and 78 column inches about AI Gore.) Coverage averaged about 117 column inches about presidential candidates in each issue of each newspaper.

The same newspapers published 19,416 column inches about national issues, or about 133 column inches per issue.

Many of the articles about presidential candidates also discussed their positions on issues. The journalism students did not attempt a content analysis that would have separated the issues from the horse race in those stories. -Nor did they differentiate between positive and negative coverage of any candidate.

The national issues mentioned in the 19,000 column inches included the economy, health care, racism, foreign policy, taxes, the environment, urban issues, farm policy and other matters. They did not include term limits and the House banking scandal, which fell into a separate category: coverage of Congress and congressional races. The newspapers published 6,290 column inches in that category, plus 7,000 column inches about local politics and 9,740 column inches about state candidates and issues.

Only three newspapers published more about the presidential candidates than they did about national issues. They were the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Elkhart, Ind., Truth and the Little Rock Arkansas Democrat and Gazette. …

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