Midwest local newscasts average 36 seconds of election coverage

In the month following the Labor Day kickoff of the 2006 election campaign season, TV stations in nine Midwest markets devoted an average of 36 seconds to election coverage during the typical 30-minute local news broadcast, a new analysis shows.

By contrast, the typical early- and late-evening local news broadcasts contained more than 10 minutes of advertising, 7 minutes of sports and weather and almost 3 minutes of crime stories.

The analysis traces broadcast news coverage in media markets in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan and Ohio. The findings were reported last week by the Midwest News Index (MNI), a new project of the University of Wisconsin-Madison's NewsLab. The Joyce Foundation of Chicago is funding the analysis.

The NewsLab analysis captured up to 1 hour per night of the early- and late-evening broadcasts on 36 NBC, CBS, ABC and FOX affiliates in nine Midwest markets between Sept. 7 and Oct. 6. The analysis covered the largest media market and state capital city in each state.

Responding to the survey, NAB executive vice president of media relations Dennis Wharton says the group behind the study is agenda-driven and biased. “It is clear they have an agenda. Their agenda is to encourage Congress to pass government-mandated quotas for political coverage,” he said. Wharton particularly questions why the study only looks at two regular newscast time slots rather than the totality of broadcast political coverage.

According to Wharton, the association has regularly asked viewers for their opinions of local TV coverage of campaigns, and the public has responded with high marks.

Politicians bear responsibility as well, he says, pointing out that they often shy away from invitations to participate in on-air candidate debates where they can’t exert the level of control over their message that they otherwise can at scripted campaign events.

The Midwest News Index findings will be continually updated on the project Web site: www.mni.wisc.edu.