A group of students and I recently conducted a study of six major newspapers: The Winston-Salem Journal, The Greensboro News & Record, The Charlotte Observer, The News & Observer in Raleigh, The Wilmington StarNews, and The Fayetteville Observer. These are six major papers in major North Carolina cities all over the state, and as far as I know, fairly well respected.
The goal in the analysis was to look at the numerical distribution of government and politics articles against other kinds of articles. We looked at the numbers of different types of articles in nearly every edition over the course of two weeks.
Before I begin, here are the results of the overall study:
84 newspaper editions total
Local politics/govt stories: 336 (6.4%)
State politics/govt: 272 (5.1%)
National politics/govt: 569 (10.8%)
Sports: 1,432 (27.1%)
Other: 2,674 (50.6%)
Total articles: 5,283
Upon first glance: oh em gee, more than a fourth of our newspapers are about GAMES?! What a waste of our time! No wonder we're such an uninformed society! Less than a fourth of our information is about politics???
Except, I think there's a lot more to these numbers than is implied.
First, the sports thing: yes, there's a lot of about sports published every day. But keep in mind: there are simply a lot of sports that happen every single day. There's undoubtedly still many games that do not make it in to the paper because there's not enough room. There are simply a lot of things in sports that happen every single day, many of which are unexpected (precisely what makes something news), so it's natural that there are so many more sports stories.
Yes. They're games. Yes. That's silly. I personally have never followed sports, and have thus never honestly read sports stories unless it was required for a journalism class. But a lot of people do care about sports. They ARE news. They are a huge part of American culture. So it's really not that shameful that there are so many more sports stories than political stories. There's just a lot in sports that happens each day.
And true, maybe these papers only contain 22 percent political news. But there's a lot more to be being an informed citizen than knowing the latest political American government news. Take business journalism for instance--there were several articles on economy and businesses and other things related. I doubt anyone would say that this is not a legitimate part of society that would not be important to being informed. But all these articles went into "other."
International politics, which can have a lot to do with and sometimes greatly affect American politics, also went into "other," but are greatly important to being informed.
In fact, I would venture a guess to say that if a newspaper distribution study was done on "things important to being an informed citizen" and "things not important to being an informed citizen," these results would be a lot less depressing.
There is one great tragedy in these results, though. Only 6.4 percent of news were about local politics. Almost 11 percent were national news. What?
It's not surprising. National news always get the bigger headlines. But it shouldn't be that way. City and county politics will almost always affect you more than national news will. It's quite unfortunate that the local story and national story numbers aren't reversed.