February 3, 2000

In the Public Interest?

Television vs. Print

The Medium clearly makes a Difference

Of the 106 television broadcasts studied on nine programs, television averaged less than one story per show each day. That compares with roughly five stories a day on average in the newspaper.

In general, television covered more about the personalities of the candidates, 16% versus 10% for print. It was less likely to cover policy topics, 16% of stories versus 27% for print, and the electorate, 6% versus 10% for print.

It covered more stories about how the candidates were performing with the media. That comprised a marked 20% of TV stories, compared with 7% for print. It did fewer stories about tactical topics, 15% versus 24% for print.

And as mentioned earlier, it did a good deal more about candidate health, 15% versus 3% for print.

TV also covered Bradley a good deal more than Gore, again heavily on his health, 19% of the stories were about Bradley, 5% about Gore.

TV coverage was less candidate driven than print, (22% versus 30%) and more driven by decisions in the newsroom (62% versus 51%).

The TV coverage was also more subjective or analytical. Fully 40% of TV stories were press analysis stories, versus 18% in print. In a similar vein, TV was less likely to do a straight news account of an event, only 28% of stories were framed that way versus 40% for print. And more of the stories in TV were framed around political matters, rather than policy or personality, 42% versus 32% for print.

Finally, more stories were framed around tactics than in print, 13% versus 8%.

The numbers for individual programs are too small to offer any refined comparisons, but one set of differences are worth mentioning. One program, ABC's Good Morning America, took a noticeably different approach than other programs.

The program was twice as likely to cover policy topics as any other program. It did not do a single story about the candidates' personal qualities. And it was more likely to do stories based on what candidates said or did and less likely to do stories based on newsroom decisions than any other program.

Larry King Live, in contrast, did no segments about the presidential campaign during the two weeks examined.