Skip to primary content


Horse Race Presidential Campaign Coverage Alive and Well

The New York Times Public Editor Clark Hoyt uses a standard public journalism critique of The New York Times and the news media as a whole when he writes about the 2008 presidential election coverage’s horse race mentality. He writes in his column:

Through Friday, of 270 news articles published in The Times about the election since the national tickets were formed in late August, only 29, or a little over 10 percent, were primarily about policy substance. And that is a generous tally that includes some very brief items.

That count by my assistant, Michael McElroy, is similar to figures compiled by the Project for Excellence in Journalism, which has been closely monitoring election coverage in a wide range of media. The group found that only 8 percent of front-page articles in The Times from late August through last Sunday were about policy. Nearly three-quarters were about the horse race, political tactics, polls and the like. The Times numbers are about the same as for the news media in general, including cable television and blogs — not a standard to aspire to.

Apparently, that does not make the public happy; Hoyt writes:

Early this year, roughly three-quarters of voters of all political persuasions surveyed by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press said they wanted more coverage of the candidates’ stands on issues. For the most part, they were disappointed, and their satisfaction with the news media has declined, according to Pew. In February, 55 percent said the election coverage was good or excellent. By June, 54 percent said it was fair or poor.

Those interested in civic and public journalism have been taking on this issue since the public journalism reform movement began  after the 1988 presidential election. Jay Rosen has been one of the most informed critics. Here is what he said back in January, 2008. Here is what I wrote in October 2007 and if you want to keep going back, here is Rosen again in 2004 with his PressThink piece Horse Race Now! Horse Race Tomorrow! Horse Race. Forever!

If I were surveyed, I would answer that I want more issue oriented stories. However, here is a confession: I can’t help myself, apparently like a lot of political junkies, each day I visit places like which provides fantastic horse race coverage, just like inside baseball. It is addictive. Here is what FiveThirtyEight posted last week about the site’s audience growth:

Seven months ago today this site … went live, with 80 visits. Yesterday we reached 693,216 … Glancing at the daily circulation figures for US newspapers, it looks like we’re at or about the top ten and rising with a bullet.

So for me I want my polls and my substantial reporting too. Right now we are obviously getting more of the former and too little of the latter and that is the big problem now, has been the problem in the past and will probably be the problem forever.

Comments are closed.