Monday, February 25, 2008

Newspaper Election Coverage Focus on 'Horse Race,' Not Policy

After analyzing the contents of more than 800 stories published in USA Today about the presidential primary campaign, University of Missouri Communication Professor William Benoit and doctoral candidate Mark Glantz found the stories focused heavily on the "horse race" (polls, predictions, election outcomes, campaign strategy and related subjects) and much less on candidates’ character and policy positions.

Benoit, an expert on political communication at MU’s College of Arts and Science, reported 56 percent of statements in the newspaper articles were about the election "game." Statements about the candidates’ character were less common (29 percent), and statements about the policy positions of the candidates were not very frequent (15 percent).

Benoit’s study reveals this allocation of comments contrasts sharply with the messages from the candidates themselves, which – with the exception of candidate pages on Facebook and MySpace – were mostly about policy. Data collected from announcement speeches (63 percent policy, 37 percent character); television spots (59 percent policy, 41 percent character); debates (70 percent policy, 30 percent character); candidate web pages (81 percent policy, 19 percent character) and candidate Facebook/Myspace pages (42 percent policy, 58 percent character) support Benoit’s conclusions.

"Clearly, the news stories analyzed for this study focus on the horse race and, after that, candidate character more than policy," Benoit said. "This is the opposite emphasis from most candidate messages."

Perhaps most revealing is Benoit’s finding that many newspaper reporters are not sourcing the statements in their stories. According to the study, reporters used candidates as sources for only 18 percent of statements, candidate supporters for 5 percent of statements and other are used for 10 percent of the statements.

"Most commonly, statements in these stories are not sourced, or made by the reporters themselves," Benoit said. "Two-thirds of statements neither quote nor paraphrase any source. Newspaper coverage from earlier campaigns confirms most statements about the election are unsourced. We are more likely to hear the reporters’ interpretations of the campaign than the candidates’ own statements."

Benoit has been a MU faculty member since 1984. He is the second-most published scholar of all time in significant communication research journals. Benoit is the author of several books on political campaigns, including Communication in Political Campaigns (2007).

Other information about political campaigns can be found on the website associated with this project:

Story contact: Bryan E. Jones, (573)882-9144,

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Flashback - Do Editorial Endorsements Matter?

In this political season, with major elections coming up in April, August and November, many editors are again musing about the tradition of newspaper editorials "endorsing" candidates.

So, in this flashback posting, let's revist the issue of political endorsements posting on this blog, in three parts, about one year ago. You can read the collection posts on the subject HERE.

Let me know what you think.

Projects to Revolutionize Journalism Worldwide Unveiled on MU Website

The home of the world’s first journalism school is taking steps toward improving the global media industry. The University of Missouri will officially dedicate the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute (RJI) in September with the goal of improving journalism around the globe.

The RJI Web site, which launched Monday, Feb. 18, previews several innovative projects already underway in partnership with leading media and non-profit organizations including the Associated Press Managing Editors (APME), National Conference of Editorial Writers (NCEW) and the Committee of Concerned Journalists (CCJ).

RJI projects address current problems in journalism to find solutions that can be applied worldwide. Professional journalists and researchers, interested citizens and students can access the site and provide ideas, participate in forums, and use research and media tools.

“The RJI Web site will be a valuable resource for journalists in the Internet era,” said Pam Johnson, executive director of RJI. “The site will feature Institute projects that focus on enhancing journalism using new technologies. Our mission is to bring citizens and journalists together to ensure the availability of credible information.”

Featured projects include:

The Opinion Pool: RJI partners with NCEW to discover the effect on editorial writers when newspapers reduce staff and bloggers attract readers.

Credibility: Project with APME that focuses on media credibility asking “who or what can people believe?”

• RJI Leadership Forums: Project with CCJ on topics including “Newsroom Leadership in a Challenging World” and “How to Promote your Online Version.”

• Community Knowledge Base: Exploration to develop a functioning prototype for civic mapping. The project uses concepts from Lew Friedland, professor at the University of Wisconsin, to understand local communities from the associations of people and institutions that are engaged civically.

Digital Publishing Alliance: Member-supported initiative that brings leaders and innovators together with technology experts and researchers to find new digital publishing products, strategies and business models.

Adobe AIR/RJI Student Design Competition: Last summer, students were asked to submit innovative ideas about how news organizations could deliver news and advertising to consumers. Viewers are asked to vote on students’ application demos.

“As we’re demonstrating with the Adobe competition, the RJI Web site is a great way to showcase the work our students are doing with the Institute and to elicit feedback from citizens partnering with us to create the future of democratic media,” said Mike McKean, chair of convergence journalism and director of the project.

“We hope our Web site will inspire citizens, academics, journalists and other professionals to participate in the Institute’s many endeavors,” Johnson said.

The Institute was made possible by a $31 million gift from the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation, the largest private donation ever to the University of Missouri. Mr. Reynolds graduated from the Missouri School of Journalism.

The RJI Web site can be accessed by visiting:

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

FOIA Workshop at Evangel University Open to the Public, Other Journalists

Members of the Society of Collegiate Journalists at Evangel University are hosting a Freedom of Information Act training workshop from 1 p.m. to 4:30 p.m., on Wednesday, April 2 in Room 204 of Trask Hall (also know as Academic Building 2) on the campus of Evangel University in Springfield, Mo.

Members of the public, as well as area journalists, are invited to come and participate with all Evangel communication students in this important training.

Charles Davis, associate professor of journalism and the executive director of the National Freedom of Information coalition ( at the University of Missouri, will be the instructor for the event.

Davis' scholarly research focuses on access to governmental information and new media law, including jurisdictional issues, intellectual property and online libel. He has earned a Sunshine Award from the Society of Professional Journalists for his work in furthering freedom of information.

He is also the author of the book, “Access Denied: Freedom of Information in the Information Age,” published in 2001.

“Charles Davis is one of the nation’s foremost authorities on the Freedom of Information Act,” said David Burton, civic communication specialist with University of Missouri Extension and president of the Southwest Missouri Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. “He has done this type of training all over the country and even developed an FOI Toolkit for the national Society of Professional Journalists.”

The training will begin with a general overview of FOIA, and then segments on actually using the laws will be presented followed by a question and answer session.

“We are very excited about this program,” said Melinda Booze, assistant professor of communication at Evangel University. “We worked hard to get a grant to fund the training and I really think our students, as well as area journalists, will benefit as a result.”

For more information on the program, call Booze at Evangel, (417) 865-2815.

Members of the public, and journalists, who want to register for this free program, need to contact the Greene County Extension Center at (417) 862-9284 prior to March 30.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Missouri’s Sunshine Law is important to members of the public, not just journalists

Missouri’s Sunshine Law is an important, but misunderstood, tool for both the public and the news media.

In fact, it may come as a surprise to know that the Sunshine Law is not designed to benefit the news media. The law is designed to protect and inform the public.

The law actually opens doors so both reporters and individuals can see government at work, and find out how taxpayer money is being spent.

The Sunshine Law helps us watch what public officials are doing and it also allows the media to watch on our behalf.

Missouri’s legislators passed their first version of the Sunshine Law in 1973 (with major revisions in 1998 and 2002), just a few years after the federal Freedom of Information Act was enacted. But the fact that this is a fairly new law is important to remember.

The “right to know” is not a constitutional right, but a statutory one. So, only legislative support can save Freedom of Information laws like the Sunshine Laws.

That means public knowledge and support for FOI laws, like the Missouri Sunshine Law, are vital to the future of these laws in our democracy.


During my reporting and professional career, I have heard some people refer to the requirements of the Missouri Sunshine Law as a “waste of time.”

It isn’t so much the posting of notices that most of those complainers were talking about. Rather, it was the general concept of doing public business in public.

Actually, I would argue that trying to dodge the requirements of the Sunshine Law is a waste of time. Doing so often creates other unnecessary problems for public officials, boards and political subdivisions.

My advice is to keep business funded by public dollars public.


The Sunshine Law applies to all records, regardless of what form they are kept in, and to all meetings, regardless of how and where they are held.

The law does allow a public body to close meetings and records to the public, in limited circumstances, but it almost never requires a public body to do so.

Another thing worth noting about the Sunshine Law is that it requires a public body to grant access to open records it already has, but it does not require a public body to create new records in response to a request for information.

The Sunshine Law also says a public body generally must give at least 24 hours' public notice before holding a meeting. If the meeting will be closed to the public, the notice must state the specific provision of the law that allows the meeting to be closed.


Copies of the Missouri Attorney General’s Sunshine Law booklet, an easy to use publication that does a great job of explaining the law, can be requested by calling 895-6567.

It is also possible to file a Sunshine Law complaint online at, download a .pdf copy of the Sunshine Law booklet or simply lean more about the law.

No matter how much you choose to learn about the Sunshine Law, remember that the law is designed to help citizens, not just the news media.