Yes, You Saw More News About Political Ads Than Actual News
Well, at least that's pretty much a quantifiable fact if you live in the seven major Midwestern markets that one group surveyed during the month leading up to the midterm elections. The Midwest News Index (MNI), a project of the University of Wisconsin's NewsLab, (via Salon's War Room blog) conducted the survey of local news in those seven markets, discovering that local stations had "aired nearly four and a-half minutes of paid political ads during the typical 30-minute broadcast while dedicating an average of one minute and 43 seconds to election news coverage." In addition, most of the actual news coverage of elections on these broadcasts was devoted to campaign strategy and polling, (otherwise known as horserace and hoopla, as another study about network news that revealed similar information called it) which "outpaced reporting on policy issues by a margin of over three to one." And it wasn't just during the commercial breaks when viewers were viewing campaign commercials, the study found. "There was a political ad 'echo effect:' Over one in ten election stories mentioned, pictured, or focused on a specific campaign ad." Yes, they're referring to the mountain of coverage regarding advertisements like this or Rush Limbaugh's reaction to this.
Ah well, it's local news, right? The stuff that Will Ferrell movies are made of! Um, right. Except that's where the substantial majority of Americans actually get their news. A Harris Interactive poll earlier this year revealed that 77% of adults watched local news "daily or several times a week." A 2004 Pew Center poll also found local news to be the most watched television news product -- putting the tally at 59%.
You can check out the study's methodology here.
UPDATE: We should note that the National Association of Broadcasters has criticized this study and others by NewsLab. Writes the AP:"Broadcasters criticized the study as 'shoddy' for not including morning and noontime newscasts, public debates and weekend programming in the analysis.
'Local stations air political coverage during many dayparts, and not just in the narrow time frame of weekday evening newscasts,' said Dennis Wharton, a spokesman for the National Association of Broadcasters."