Chapter Study Outline

  1. Introduction
    1. The media has their own set of values that determine what is newsworthy, and these stories usually include a certain amount of conflict and emotion that they believe appeal to their audience. Because of this, these stories will get more news coverage than other stories that perhaps other actors—like the candidate or campaign—would consider more valuable, whether or not the campaign wants this. Yet the media has enough sway over the general population that candidates also feel like they have to respond to such media coverage.
    2. The role of the media in campaigns, however, remains ambiguous. There is no evidence that the media has an effect on the long term opinions of the citizenship or, indeed, an effect on the outcome of an election. Furthermore, it remains an important question as to whether the news media upholds or undermines the democratic values that are supposed to be inherent in the election process.
  2. Who Are the News Media?
    1. The mass media includes all types of communication designed to reach large audiences, including music, movies, and entertainment, but also news coverage—which is the media most likely to affect an election or campaign. Traditional media sources such as television, radio, and newspapers are still important, but the growth in prominence of new media which is based around the Internet has changed the way campaigns are run.
    2. B.Some types of media—such as newspapers or radio—are useful to reach niche audiences or audiences in smaller communities, though newspaper use as a source of information has declined while the Internet has seen a definite increase in the past two election seasons. However, the television—both traditional news and cable news programs—remain the place that most citizens go for their news.
  3. Government’s Limited Oversight of the News Media
    1. The first amendment in the Constitution guarantees free press, so there are few constraints on media coverage, both in general and during an election. The one rule that does affect the media is the right to equal time, which states that basic cable and basic radio stations must provide equal time to all candidates pursuing office, and this includes advertising. The incumbent president’s actions during the course of his job are exempt from this rule, however, which gives them a distinct advantage.
    2. The right to equal time does not require that news outlets cover election events such as debates or speeches. In some cases, some networks choose not to air the political events in order to keep to the original programming.
  4. The Need for Profits and the Norm of Objectivity
    1. News outlets have practical constraints, such as time and personnel, and so cannot cover everything.  One of the motives that leads them to choose to cover some stories during an election over others is called the profit motive, as the media are a business expected to generate revenue and keep costs down.
      1. Maintaining a business as a media outlet can be difficult when television and newspapers are losing viewers and money from advertising, and when attempting to cover campaigns, many of which would like around-the-clock news coverage. Because of this, many television stations have cut reporters and the amount of coverage of campaigns, preferring to use interesting clips of candidates obtained from hand-held cameras, rather than maintaining a campaign press corp.
      2. The media outlets can also look to cable television and Internet outlets to both disseminate information cheaply, while at the same time work around the law of equal time set by the FCC.
    2. The other norm that media outlets follow is that of objectivity. While news media was very partisan until the second half of the twentieth century, currently most of the press values the principle of impartiality in reporting. This type of news reporting is still preferred by many citizens, though the rise of non-neutral news outlets, especially on cable television, provides an alternative that is growing in popularity.
  5. What Gets Covered, and How?
    1. Generally, the media covers races that are competitive, and the more competitive the race, the better the chances are for more coverage. The media is also more likely to cover races where there is an important or well-known office at stake, such as that of a president, a governor, or a mayor of a large city such as Washington, D.C. When other races appeal to the audience in other ways—such as elections in which celebrities are running for office—there is a greater chance of media coverage as well. Fortunately for state and local campaigns, local news outlets will be more likely to cover smaller elections as well as the larger ones.
    2. The majority of the campaign events covered by the news are specific events that occur during the election, such as debates or the national conventions. The media values new ideas or stories for their novelty, as well as valuing personality, or the level on which candidates especially can engage the viewers—they will go so far as to analyze candidates’ personalities and end up shaping much of their public persona. News media also values conflict, which viewers find interesting, as well as skepticism, which leads to a certain level of analysis and interpretation of what candidates do and say.
    3. Perhaps what is most covered by news media is the strategy of the campaigns and the results of that strategy—what candidate is ahead in certain states, and where other candidates are gaining ground in others. The topic of strategy is relatively inexhaustible, providing ample resource for coverage, from using polls of voters to the amount of funds raised. It also provides a perfect subject for news media to provide context with analysis and interpretation, something that many believe is a critical part of being a professional journalist.
    4. Campaign coverage can be biased—newspaper coverage tends to favor incumbents that support the editorial agenda of the paper, while cable television can be biased toward a certain political ideology—but this is as much a reflection of the viewer preferences as the outlets choices. In general, however, studies have shown that there is little evidence that coverage of the news is biased towards one party as a whole, though it has been shown that news media tend to be biased for those candidates ahead in the polls during an election.
  6. How Do Candidates and the News Media Interact?
    1. Candidates’ main goals are to spread their message to as many potential voters as possible, and so they utilize the media both to clarify and articulate their message as well as to reach many more homes than they would be able to alone, and so candidates spend a lot of time interacting in different ways with the media, keeping it as much on their terms as possible.
    2. The news media also chooses what stories to air and how often to air them. Certain ads only aired once, officially, might be replayed and discussed on the news or Internet, and mistakes or funny moments made during a campaign can serve to fill airtime with something considered “newsworthy,” especially when much of the official news coverage of a campaign is being spun by the campaign to look as positive as possible—as Ted Koppel stated about the 1996 Republican convention, “This convention is more infomercial than news event.”
    3. Reporters also sometimes will not report the messages that the candidates are trying to get across, and will choose to cover other aspects of the race that are more interesting, stereotype the candidates, and, for fear of missing a lead story, cover the same themes and ideas that all of the other news outlets are covering. In general, the relationship between the news media and the candidate is one of compromise and conflict, in which both sides depend on each other to meet their goals.  
  7. The Effects of Media Coverage on Citizens
    1. Regardless of its purpose, most media does not work in persuading viewers to change their opinions about an election—most potential voters pay little attention to elections, and have also already made up their mind politically. Because of this, media works to reinforce preexisting notions, and doesn’t change how people think about something but what they are thinking about. When the media covers one topic more than others, it is not only considered more frequently but also considered more important by viewers—whether or not the campaigns or elections are mentioned.
    2. The media also helps citizens by informing them about subjects and candidates that they may have been previously unaware of, increasing recognition of the names and faces of candidates that are covered in elections. However, the rise of the Internet and cable television has made it easier for viewers to self-select and side-step information on elections and candidates that they are not actively interested in learning; this makes voters in general less susceptible to the political messages in the news media.
  8. Evaluating the News Media’s Role in Campaigns
    1. The news media help to meet the standard of free choice generally because they relay information to citizens about their choices during an election, though often the coverage is not designed for this purpose. At the same time, there are many smaller, less competitive, and non-national races that receive little coverage by the news media because they are not considered “news worthy” by the business, though whether this is the fault of the business or the audience that demands sensational stories is difficult to tell.
    2. This same logic applies to the idea of equality—that information via the news, especially via the Internet, is available to those that desire it, but that broadcast news in general caters to a larger audience more interested in topics like sports or entertainment.
    3. The media allows a level of deliberation to occur that would not otherwise be possible in such a large country, providing information that clarifies the points of each side and usually making specific note about the differences between candidates. Conversation among citizens can also be facilitated to an extent through media, like blogs and the Internet, though these types of media are self-segregating and do not reach all types of citizens equally.