Friday, June 12, 2009

Media bias quantified

I've written often, some have said ad nauseum, about the media bias against smaller party and independent politics and the perspective they could add to the political discourse if given the chance.

John Warren, over at Adirondack Almanack, recently provoked an interesting discussion with an essay on the same topic.

One of the commenters challenging John was Chris Morris, a self-described "upstate journalist" who works for "modest wages."

In the course of the discussion, Chris replied to one of my comments as such:

My original protests with John concern the sweeping generalizations he made about the "local media" having ignored [Eric] Sundwall, which are not accurate. Did the Post Star largely ignore his candidacy? Yes. Did the Times Union? Yes. Did the Press Republican? No. The Enterprise? No. WNBZ? No. Watertown Daily Times? No. And so on.

His claims don't stand up to journalistic scrutiny.

I search around the websites of the newspapers he implicitly praised for both the phrases 'Tedisco' and 'Sundwall' (as a search for 'Murphy' would've brought results unrelated to the special election). Republican Jim Tedisco, Libertarian Eric Sundwall and eventual winner Democrat Scott Murphy all ran in the recent NY 20th Congressional District special election.

WNBZ's online archive not go back far enough to analyze.

I couldn't get good numbers for The Adirondack Daily Enterprise, as their search mixed in letters to the editor and news articles and I think their search was limited to 100. However, the search gave 36 results for 'Sundwall' and 100 for 'Tedisco.' They definitely seemed to do better than the others. However even this least unfair local media outlet's reporting was (bearing in mind the imprecision of the numbers) still at least around a 3:1 imbalance for the Republican. That is considered 'good' in the current environment.

A search of the other two sites was more definitive as it gave articles only.

A 2009 Plattsburgh Press-Republican search for 'Sundwall' gave seven results total, two of which were identical and only two of which were local reports. Of those six unique articles, one was about Sundwall's exclusion from the ballot, four merely mentioned in a cursory fashion that he was running and one was about his declaration of candidacy and... ZERO mentioned anything about his platform or ideas.

A 2009 P-R search of 'Tedisco' gave 63 results.

A 2009 Watertown Daily Times archive search of 'Sundwall' gave one result, about the governor's call for the special election in which Sundwall's name was mentioned only in passing.

A 2009 WDT archive search of 'Tedisco' gave 88 results.

If this meets the definition of 'not ignoring,' zero articles in these last two papers that actually discuss his ideas or platform, then it's a sad illustration of how low the journalistic bar has been set and of exactly how suffocating this media bias really is.

The trials and tribulations of the print media are well-documented. I wonder if any will figure out that maybe it makes better business sense to not completely ignore the 25 pct. of the population who are neither Democrats nor Republicans.


semi234 said...

The journalist's analysis doesn't hold up scrutiny in another way. Both the Watertown Daily Times & the Plattsburgh Press-Republican have readerships that are largely outside the 20th Congressional district. Other than a token news story about it & it was "the only show in town", they'd have no reason to run much of an in-depth look on the special election.

Brian said...

Your point is well-taken. I think he was just throwing claims out as a reflexive defense of his vocation. The fundamental bias is that the conventional wisdom in mainstream journalism is that you ought to offer fair coverage of the candidates your organization decrees as "viable" (which, in practice, is almost always limited to Democrats and Republicans). What many of us want is fair coverage of ALL the candidates and to let the voters decide who's viable. If you're going to do the reporting, why not do a thorough job?

This is why I've always said the "media has a liberal/conservative bias" allegations are completely missing the forest for the trees.

TourPro said...

My recollection of Sundwall's platform was that it was pretty thin.

Plus, if you're trying to market something via the mainstream media, that's already kinda lame.

I have some experience in the web marketing and branding. And I can assuredly tell you that all of the candidates were weak in that area. That whole "special" election was a joke. Murphy is a tool for the Dems, Tedisco is Albany/GOP Old-school defined, Sundwall was barely on the radar.

Now we got another joke happening to the North.

But...we all know the real comedy is in Albany.

Brian said...

Tour: I heard him speak and found him much more substantative than the other two, even where I disagreed with him. Though he didn't have notable qualities that the other two had. Specifically, talking a lot while saying little of substance(Murphy) and his ideas were hard to package into simplistic sound bytes (Tedisco).

Eric Sundwall said...

Tour - We spend almost the whole campaign trying to get on the ballot. If I had a tenth of their budget we could have put out a whole lot more stuff to fit your marketing catcall.

Here's an example of what we did do with volunteers;

Chris said...

Hey there Brian -- just happened across your blog here and noticed my name being thrown into the conversation. I like how you put "upstate journalist" and "modest wages" in quotations as if I my claims were suspect. I'm the Assistant New Director for WNBZ and make about 400 buckaroos a week. And yes, I was reflexively defending my vocation (you are quite eloquent). It's a natural, knee-jerk reaction when internet bloggers decry the inability of a paid professional to do his or her work.

Brian said...

Chris: The quotation marks were not intended in any kind of snide manner. They were used in order to, well, quote you. I used the phrase "self-described" precisely to try to make it clear that it was a direct quote, not sarcasm. I'm sorry you interpreted it the wrong way. I don't agree with what you said but I wasn't trying to insult you.

Chris said...

Ahhhh... my bad... see, this is why I need to take my chill pills BEFORE posting comments on blogs... thanks for the response!