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Local TV News Coverage of the 2002 General Election

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Abstract:

Most Americans say they get most of their news from local television. We analyzed the local news programs watched by most Americans to find out what news they got about the 2002 political campaigns. We recorded and studied more than 10,000 top-rated half-hour evening news broadcasts on 122 stations in the top 50 U.S. media markets in the seven weeks leading up to Election Day. We found that only 44 percent of those broadcasts contained any campaign coverage at all. Most of those stories aired in the last two weeks of the campaign, and most of those were about strategy and polls. The average campaign story was less than 90 seconds. Less than 30 percent of campaign stories included candidates speaking, and when they did, the average candidate sound bite was 12 seconds long. Less than 15 percent of the campaign stories on local television were about local campaigns, including U.S. House races. While viewers watching top-rated half-hours of local news had a less-than-even chance of seeing any campaign coverage at all, about half those broadcasts contained three or more paid political ads, and more than 80 percent of them aired at least one ad.