Sunday, August 17, 2008

Obama Leads Washington Post Page 1 Coverage by 3-1

Deborah Howell, The Washington Post ombudsman, reported this morning that Obama has had a 3-to-1 advantage in front page coverage in the Post since became the Democratic Party's presumptive nominee on June 4.

In overall political stories from June 4 to Friday, Obama dominated by 142 to 96. Obama has been featured in 35 stories on Page 1; McCain has been featured in 13, with three Page 1 references with photos to stories on inside pages. Fifteen stories featured both candidates and were about polls or issues such as terrorism, Social Security and the candidates' agreement on what should be done in Afghanistan.

This dovetails with Obama's dominance in photos, which I pointed out two weeks ago. At that time, it was 122 for Obama and 78 for McCain. Two weeks later, it's 143 to 100, almost the same gap, because editors have run almost the same number of photos -- 21 of Obama and 22 of McCain -- since they realized the disparity. McCain is almost even with Obama in Page 1 photos -- 10 to 9.

This is not just a Post phenomenon. The Project for Excellence in Journalism has been monitoring campaign coverage at an assortment of large and medium-circulation newspapers, broadcast evening and morning news shows, five news Web sites, three major cable news networks, and public radio and other radio outlets. Its latest report, for the week of Aug. 4-10, shows that for the eighth time in nine weeks, Obama received significantly more coverage than McCain.

I'm not surprised. But once again, most of this is not because of an overt bias in the media to promote an agenda. Rather a symptom of reporters and editors, especially in New York and Washington, looking at stories through the same prism because they mostly have the same backgrounds, same education, and same political point of view. By in large, the East Coast journalists I have worked with for decades work hard at trying to maintain a balance in their coverage. The problem occurs when there is a lack of ideological diversity in the newsroom. Too often, journalists who think the same way as their colleagues will not challenge themselves when coverage gets out of whack because they can't see it, not because they are promoting an agenda.

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