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ChrisHart

COM105
CoverageofDNC2004Primariesbyslate.com

TheInternetnewsmagazineslate.com(Slate)isoneofseveralnewsmediums
studiedtoanalyzecoverageofthe2004U.S.Democraticprimaries.Basedon
comparisonsbetweenSlateandothernewsoutletsinarangeofmediums,Ibelievethat
Slatepositionsitscoverageslightlyleftofcenter.Suchacomparisonneedstotakeinto
accountseveralfactors,includingthetypeofcoverageprovided,thestyleandtoneofthe
coverage,andhowthatcoveragecompareswiththatprovidedbyothernewsoutlets.
Forthepurposeofthispaper,Iwillpresentbothqualitativeandquantitative
analysesandcomparisonsinacoupleareas.First,Iwillquantifythenumberofarticles
ineachofthreecategories:majoritycommentary,majoritynewscoverage(factualwith
littlecommentarybeyondpoliticalslant)andarticlescontainingbothnewsand
commentary.Indoingso,Iwillalsoattempttocharacterize,ingeneralterms,thetoneof
thearticlesconsidered.Second,Iwillsummarizetheconclusionstheresearchgroup
reachedincomparingandcontrastingcoverageoftheprimariesacrossthemediumsona
periodicbasis.Third,IwilladdresswhatItermSlatesmetacoveragearticlesthat
reportoncoverageoftheprimariesbyothernewsorganizations.Whilethisaspectofthe
paperisnotcentraltoshowingSlatespositionontheconservativeliberalspectrum,I
feelitisimportanttoshowhowSlateperceivesthepositionofothernewsorganizations
relativetoSlatespositionandprovidesperspectivetothefirsttwoareasoftheanalysis.
Finally,IwilladdresssomeofthepossiblereasonsforthemediasfavoritismofDean
veryearlyintheprimary(whilethiswasnot,generallyspeaking,Slatesposition)andthe
latershifttoKerryfocusedcoverage(minimizingDean)withintheframeworkofthe
analysis.

ChrisHart
COM105
CoverageofDNC2004Primariesbyslate.com

Atotalof20articlesfromSlatewerereviewedandsummarizedbetweenJanuary
22,2004andMarch20,2004.(Itisimportanttonotethattheselectionofthesearticles
wasnotrandom.WhileIattemptedtochoosearepresentativecrosssectionofarticlesas
asample,acompletelyrandomselectionprocesswouldbetterlenditselftoaqualitative
analysis.)Ofthe20articles,sixwerepurelyfactualreportssimilartowhatonewould
expectinadailynewspaper.Sevenarticleswereprimarilycommentary(whileallbut
onecontainedatleastsomefacts)whiletheremainingsevenwereamixtureoffactsand
commentary.
Thearticlessampledincludedonlysixdifferentauthors.WilliamSaletanand
ChrisSuellentropauthoredeightarticleseach,perhapscausingtheirstyle,toneand
opiniontobeoverrepresented.(Ifeelthatthispercentageislikelytoberepresentative
ofpercentageoftotalarticlesonSlatecoveringtheprimariesSaletanandSuellentrop
arebothkeypoliticaljournalistsforthemagazine.)
Thepurelyfactualarticleswereallwrittenobjectivelyandwereneutralwith
respecttopoliticaltone.MostofthearticlesfocusedexclusivelyontheDemocratic
primarieswithoutregardtoRepublicanopinionoreventualcompetitionwithBush.
(Twoarticlescomprisetheexception:onedealingwithJewishvotersneedingtochoose
betweenBushandKerry,bothofwhomhavebeenveryfriendlytowardsIsrael,andone
highlightingthechoicesofcrossoverRepublicansvotingintheDemocratic
primaries.)Coverageofmostpopularcandidates(Dean,Kerry,EdwardsandClark)was
fairlyequalwiththelesserknowncandidates(Lieberman,Kucinich)receivingless
coveragethantheformercategorybutequalcoverageamongstthemselves.

ChrisHart
COM105
CoverageofDNC2004Primariesbyslate.com

CommentaryandopinionpiecesonSlateareeasilyidentifiableallofthe
articlessummarizedthatcontainedopinionsoreditorialswerewritteninthefirstperson.
Sincemanyoftheauthorsofthearticlesanalyzedwroteacombinationofnewsand
commentary,thepoliticalorientationoftheseauthorswasfairlytransparent.Itwasclear
whichcandidatestheauthorslikedanddisliked,enablingthereadertobeawareofany
potentialbiaseswhenevaluatingnewsarticlesbythesameauthor.Whilesevenarticles
areclassifiedascommentary,theyareoftenarebasedonatleastsomesupportingfacts
andnonearepure,unsupportedrhetoric.
Asapartofthisproject,otherstudentsstudiedseveralothernewsoutletsaspart
ofafocusgroup.Slatewascomparedandcontrastedwiththefollowingnews
organizations:MSNBC,NewYorkTimes,TheNewsHourwithJimLehrerandMorning
Edition.Whilemanysimilaritiesincoverageexisted,severaldifferenceswere
discoveredthatareimportanttounderstandingSlatespositionintheindustry.
Ingeneral,Slatecoveredmanyofthesameeventsasthetraditionalnews
outletsbeingstudied,suchasdebates,speeches,photoopsandprimaryresults.
However,Slateoftenreportedelementsoftheseeventsthatwerenotcoveredbytheother
newsorganizations,suchasmorethoroughandcontextuallyappropriatequotesfrom
candidatesratherthansoundbites.Slatealsoaddressedtheroleofmediainthe
electiondirectly,whichwillbediscussedinmoredetaillater.
Whilealltheothernewsorganizationsbeinganalyzedinourfocusgroupseemed
tofavorDean,Slatescoveragewasmuchmorebalancedbetweenthethreefrontrunners
(Dean,EdwardsandKerry).WhilethecommentaryrevealedthatSlatesauthorsfavored

ChrisHart
COM105
CoverageofDNC2004Primariesbyslate.com

Deanasthewinnerinthebeginningoftheprimaries,theirfactualcoveragewouldnot
leadonetothatconclusion.ThiswasonekeydifferencebetweenSlateandtheother
newsmediumsinthefocusgroup.
Slatewastheonlywebbasedmediumstudiedinthisfocusgroup,leadingto
somekeydifferencesbetweenitandthetraditionalnewsoutlets.ThetraditionalTV
newsoutletscouldchangehowastorywaspresented.Forexample,atelevisionnews
showcanvarywhereorwhenastoryappearsorisrerun.(InthecaseofaTVnews
program,apieceonaprimaryordebatemayberunasthetopstoryonalightnewsday
butmayrunsecondorthirdbehindamoresensationalstory,suchasamurderormass
casualtyaccident.Similarly,anewspapercandecidewhetherthesamenewsitemruns
aboveorbelowthefoldbasedonwhatelseisrunningthatday.)Slatekeepsaconsistent
formatandgroupingofarticlesallelectionarticleswereaccessiblebyalinkto
Election2004whichremainedinthesamelocationoftheirwebsitethroughoutthe
durationofthissurvey.
Incontrast,newspaperscandecidewherearticlesabouttheelectioncouldbe
placed.Atonepointinthecampaign,theNewYorkTimesranastorythatBushwas
leadinginpopularpollsthatappearedonpagefour.Withinamonth,Kerrywasleading
inpopularpolls,whichtheNewYorkTimescoveredinastoryappearingonpageone.
Perhapsthereisalegitimatereasonforthedisparity,suchasdifferencesinnewsvolume.
Nonetheless,thedisparitycertainlyaffectsreaderperceptionasanarticleonpageone
reachesfarmorereadersthanthesamearticleonpagefour.Moreover,reportsonpolling

ChrisHart
COM105
CoverageofDNC2004Primariesbyslate.com

havebeenusedasthequintessentialexampleofreflexivity,encouragingapolltrendto
continueamongthemasses.
Anotherdifferencewasthepermanencyofnewsitemsbetweenthemediums.
UnlessaTVnewsprogramistaped,itisnearlyimpossibletoseethesamebroadcast
againunlessthesamestoryisrerun.(Evenifastoryisreran,differentcommentaryor
footagecouldbeused.)Similarly,newspapersmustbesavedforareadertobeabletogo
backtoaperviousstory.Conversely,Slatekeptarunningarchiveofstoriesaboutthe
electionfortwotothreeweeks.Thisenabledareadertogobacktopreviousstoriesand
understandhowcoveragemayhavechanged.(WhileSlatesstoriesremainedonthesite,
thetitlesofastorywouldoftenchange,rotatingbetweentwoorthreedifferenttitleswith
thesamecontent.Thismadegoingbacktoviewapreviousstorybasedonitsoriginal
titleslightlymoredifficult,asitwasnotalwayspossibletolocateastorybymatchinga
storyscurrenttitletotheprevioustitleunderwhichitappeared.)
Slatealsoprovidedmetacoverageoftheprimariesbycoveringothermedia
outletscoverageofanewsitemorotherwiseaddressingtheroleofmediaintheelection.
Thisdidnotoccurinanycoveragebytheothernewsorganizationsinthefocusgroup.
Twoinstancesofthisphenomenonareofparticularinterest.Inthefirst,ISeeDean
People:HowardDeansFatalEchoChamber,WilliamSaletandiscussesMartinSheens
appearanceataspeechgivenbyDeaninNewHampshire.MartinSheenplaystheroleof
aDemocraticPresidentinNBCspoliticaldramaTheWestWing,andmanyofthe
commentsSheenmadeatthespeechwererelatedtotheshowandhighlightedhow
Deanscampaignlookedtocapitalizeonvotersfamiliaritywiththeshow.

ChrisHart
COM105
CoverageofDNC2004Primariesbyslate.com

IntheSlatearticle,IsHeStillHere?:JohnKerryCantGetRidofHoward
Dean,ChrisSuellentropdiscussesthemediacoverageofwhatcametobeknownasthe
DeanScream,pejorativelyreferringtowhenHowardDeanbecameemotionalata
speech.TheclipofHowardDeansscreamwasreplayedfrequentlyonTVandoften
framedinawaythatmadeDeanseemoutofcontrol.Suellentropsawthespeechin
person,however,andpointedoutthatatthetime,Deansscreamingwasbarely
audible.Thus,incontext,thiseventwashardlyevennewsworthy.Takenoutofcontext
inadifferentmedium(onTVratherthaninperson)however,itportrayedDeanvery
badly.ItislikelythattheTVnewsmediacouldhaveframedthiseventdifferentlyby
providingmorecontextfortheeventorbynotcoveringitatall.Thefactthattheydid
not,forwhateverreason,leadsmetobelievethiswasanexampleofagendasetting.
AsafinalexampleofSlatescoverageofothermedia,WilliamSaletansarticle
ItBoy:TheLimitsofJohnEdwardsRareTalentdiscussesEdwardspassionand
animationwhenspeaking.Whilethisisevidentwhenwatchinghimspeakinperson,
Saletansays,itisoftenimpossibletoseewhenwatchinghimonTVduetocamera
framing.Saletandoesntcommentonwhetherthisisintentional;nevertheless,it
certainlyaffectedaudienceperceptionofEdwards.
Theseexampleshighlightthepowerofthemediatoinfluenceviewers(and,more
importantlyinthiscase,voters)perceptionsofcandidates.Givingfair,objective
coverageacrossavarietyofmediums(especiallywhentryingtocondensealongeventto
ashortnewssegment)isdifficult.Competitionamongmajornewsorganizationsinan

ChrisHart
COM105
CoverageofDNC2004Primariesbyslate.com

increasinglycrowdedanddemassifiedmarketonlymakesthistaskmoredifficult.Slates
coverageismorethoroughthansomeoftheothersourcesstudiedinthefocusgroup.
Earlyon,Deanappearedtobethefrontrunnerandreceivedamajorityof
coverage.Asthecampaigndevelopedforeachofthecandidatesandthepersonalities
andnuancesofeachcandidatesplatformandapproachcrystallized,Kerrybecamethe
focusofattentioninatleastsomeofthemajormediums.Therearemanypossible
explanationsforthisphenomenon.
Onepossibilityisthatthemediuminwhichacandidateispresented
fundamentallyaffectstheperceptionofthatcandidatesplatformandpersonality.A
hotmedium,inwhichtheconsumerisveryinvolvedinunderstandingthestory,works
betterforsomecandidatesandnotaswellforothers.Forexample,Deanscampaign
cameacrossbetterontheInternetandonradio,wherenewsconsumershadtobeactively
engagedtounderstandhisplatform.Presentedinthislight,hisideascameacrossclearly
andheappearedtobeverythoughtfulandbalanced.InacoolmediumsuchasTV,the
viewerdoesnotneedtobeasinvolved.Theproducersofthenewssegmenthavegreat
controloverwhatisshown.Deaninthiskindofsettingoftencameacrossasarrogant
andextremelyspontaneous.
ComparedtoDean,JohnKerryperformedmuchbetterincoolermediums.His
personality,idealsandthetoneofhispresentationworkedwell,especiallyonTV.While
radioandInternetnewspiecescoveringhimmayhavebeenmorecritical,themajorityof
thenationgetstheirnewsfromTV.Asaresult,interestinKerrycontinuedtoincrease
whileDeanscoveragebecamemorenegative,exacerbatedbyoneortwomediaevents

ChrisHart
COM105
CoverageofDNC2004Primariesbyslate.com

thatturnedintoanewsfiasco.Thiscoverageformsasortoffeedbackloop,fedbythe
reflexivityphenomenon,causingKerrytobecomeincreasinglypopular.
Whilethemediumwhereastoryiscoveredcertainlyaffectshowapieceis
perceived,mediaprofessionalscanmaintainasignificantamountofcontrolinthe
process.Themediuminwhichthatpieceispresentedmerelysetstheboundariesalong
thespectruminwhichthosepresentingthenewscanoperate.Itisthentheresponsibility
ofmediaprofessionalstoensurethatastoryisportrayedaccurately.Objectivityisthe
responsibilityofjournalists,editorsandalloftheindividualcontributorsthatmakenews
possible.Howtheytreatthisresponsibilityhasaverydirecteffectonthepublics
perceptionandcanmakeorbreakacandidate.
IbelievethatSlatecanbeseenasapositiveforceinnewsmedia.Theirfactual
coverageprovidedanglestostoriesthatwerenotreadilyavailableinothermediumsand
theircommentaryraisedissuesimportanttotheelection.Bywillinglyturningtheir
metaphoriclensoncoveragefromtheircompetitors,theyhighlightedtheimportanceof
understandinghowcoverageofthesameeventcandifferbasedonthemediuminwhich
itispresented.Commentaryprovidedbytheirauthorshighlightsthesimilaritiesand
differencesbetweencandidatesandhelpsbringcertainsocialissuestotheforeground.
Ultimately,however,we,asthegeneralpublic,needtobeinformed,concerned
andvigilantaboutthemedia.Themediaprovideavaluableservicebyprovidingaforum
toencouragepublicdiscussionofsocialissues.Indoingso,theymerelyencourage
change;wearetheoneswhomusteffectchange.Todosoinanuninformedmannerisa
derelictionofourdutiestoourgovernment,oursociety,andourselves.