2000 Primary Election Coverage Study

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For the 3rd year in a row now the GR Institute for Information Democracy (GRIID) has completed a 30-day study of local TV news election coverage. The following are the major findings of the study:

  • All 3 TV stations failed to provide adequate information to viewers that would allow them to make an informed vote.
  • Of the combined 45 minutes and 29 seconds of air time devoted to the primary elections, only 2 minutes and 21 seconds had candidates speaking, and 56 seconds of that total was about issues.
  • For every election story given by the 3 stations combined there were 8.3 crime stories.
  • Fox 17 had as many stories in the 30-day period on a Jerry Springer contestant accused of murder (5) as they did election stories (5).
  • Channel 13 had more stories on the Mackinac Island power outage (8) than they did on the election (7).
  • Channel 8 had almost as many stories about a shooting outside a Walker Street Party store (9) as they did about the elections (11).
  • Of the 5 Kent County Commission races only 1 received any coverage – the Turner/Mayhue race.
  • Comparatively, the Grand Rapids Press gave more stories about the elections (33) than all three stations combined (23).
  • The election story with the highest combined air-time was the Hudsonville Alcohol ballot proposals – 9 minutes and 57 seconds.

2000 Primary Election News Coverage
(July 10 – August 7; 30 days prior to Primary Election Day)

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Date Candidate/proposal Time
WOOD TV8 7/11 FH School Bond :24
7/13 Sheriff/signs 1:18
7/13 Sheriff/signs 2:03
7/21 Mayhue/Turner 3:00
7/21 Mayhue/Turner :44
7/27 Ottawa Co. Ballot Int. 3:00
7/27 Ottawa Co. Ballot Int. 3:00
7/28 Holland annexation 2:40
8/1 Holland annexation :30
8/2 Steele/Frushour 2:50
8/3 Hudsonville Alcohol 4:52
8/4 Kent Library 4:14

Total 25:35
Date Candidate/proposal Time
WZZM 13 7/11 Kent District Library :37
7/18 Hudsonville Alcohol 2:42
7/25 Sheriff candidates :50
8/4 Vote preparations 1:53
8/4 Vote preparations :32
8/7 Primary primer 1:32
8/7 Primary primer 2:20

Total 10:26
Date Candidate/proposal Time
WXMI Fox 17 7/25 Sheriff Forum :30
8/1 Holland annexation 2:07
8/2 Kent Library Mileage 2:18
8/3 Hudsonville Alcohol 2:23
8/7 Primary primer 2:10

Total 9:28
Total time all 3 stations 45:29
Ch .8 Ch. 13 Ch. 17 Total
# of crimes stories 76 74 43 193
Walker St. Party Store 9 7 2 18
Jerry Springer/Contestant Murder 2 1 5 8
Mackinac Island Power 8 8 2 18
Concord Crash 6 4 4 14
Lead Election stories 0 1 0 1
Total Election stories 11 7 5 23
Crime Story/Election Story Ratio 7/1 10.5/1 8.6/1 8.3/1
Channel Candidate Voices Public Voices
13 – Hudsonville alcohol 11 sec. – against

10 sec. – for
7 sec. – against

8 – Turner/Mayhue Mayhue – 29 sec. (0 issues)
Turner – 29 sec. (0 issues)
8 – Polkton Twp. 9 sec. – against
13 sec. – against

11 sec. – for

8 – Holland annexation 12 sec. – for
20 sec. – against
17 – Holland annexation 19 sec. – for
9 sec. – against
5 sec. – for
17 – Kent Lib. 15 sec. – for
7 sec. – for
10 sec. – for on 1

undecided on 2

8 – Steele/Frushour Steele – 42 sec. (27 issues)
Frushour – 61 sec. (29 issues)
17 – Hudsonville Alcohol (all on A) no – 14 sec.
yes – 6 sec.

no – 8 sec.

yes – 12 sec.
yes – 10 sec.

17 – Hudsonville Alcohol A – yes – 17 sec.
B – yes – 21 sec.
8 – Kent Library yes – 22

yes – 46
yes – 10

Total time/Candidate Voices – 2:21(all on ch. 8)
Total time/Candidates on issues – :56 seconds (all on ch. 8)
Paid Ads for local Primary Races/Ballot proposals (during newscasts)
Channel 13 – 16 for Zemaitis (Kent Co. Probate Judge)
Channel 8 – 0
Channel 17 – 0
GR Press Primary Election articles
Date Candidate/proposal Inches/placement
7/10 Holland/Fillmore Tp 18.5/B2
7/13 Frushour/Steele 7.5/B3
7/16 Hudsonville Alcohol 12/A25
7/17 Ottawa Co. 89th St. Rep. 29/B1-2
7/20 Holland/Fillmore Tp. 9/B2
7/20 Allegan Co. Sheriff 17/B3
7/21 Vander Molen/signs 14/C1-2
7/23 Frushour/Steele 33/A25
7/23 Kent Co. Sheriff 84/G1
7/24 County Clerk 20.5/B1-2
7/25 local judicial races 17/B1-2
7/26 Kent Sheriff forum 12/B1-2
7/26 Gillem yard signs 12/B1-2
7/26 Voter Guide 20 pages content
7/27 16, 17 & 19 Co. Comm. 26/B1-2
7/28 Allegan Co. Sheriff forum 15/C3
7/29 $$ in campaigns 36/A1,4
7/29 State House race complaints 6/A3
7/30 Kent Probate Court 42/A25-26
7/31 Wyoming District Judge 31.5/B1-2
8/1 Ottawa drain comm. 18/B3
8/2 Hudsonville Alcohol 11/B1
8/2 Holland annexation 9/B3
8/2 Ottawa Co. Comm. 20/B3
8/3 Koetje/Karel State Rep. 19/B1-2
8/3 Holland Annexation 11/B3
8/3 $$ raised by GOP/Dems for State House races 13/B4
8/4 Probate Court 16/C1-2
8/4 Wyoming District Court 14/C2
8/4 Allegan Co. Sheriff 16/C2
8/4 Polkton Twp. Ballot 15/C3
8/6 Kent Dist. Library 52/A1, 23
8/6 Kent Co. Sheriff 30/A25-26
GR Press Editorial Endorsements
7/10 Stelma for Sheriff and Yes on Kent Library
7/30 State House – Koetje, Newell, Vander Klock & DeVouyst
8/1 County Clerk – Hollinrake, County Comm. – Turner, Shook, White, Mast & Morgan
8/3 Holland Annexation, Senior Millage, Spring Lake Twp., Hudsonville Alcohol, Holland Twp., Park Twp.
8/4 Kent Twp. Proposals
8/6 short summary of most on the ballot
Paid ads
7/26 Voter Guide – Krupp, full page & 1/2 pg. – Nevins, full page – Stelma, full page & 1/2 pg. – Schaefer, 1/2 pg. – Zemaitis, 1/2 pg. – Mast, 1/4 pg. – White, 1/4 pg. – Sherman, 1/4 pg. – VanderVeen, 1/4 pg. – Hollinrake, 1/2 pg. – TerMaat, 1/4 pg. – Mason, 1/4 pg. – Hillary, 1/2 pg. – Kelly, 1/2 pg. – Bowler, 1/4 pg.- Miller, 1/4 pg. – Winther, 1/2 pg. – Gillem, 1/8 pg. – York, 1/8 pg. – Rolls, 1/8 pg. – Baxter, full page
7/30 Krupp 3/4pg.
8/2 Bowler/Probate Judge A4-1/8pg
8/3 Bowler/ A14 1/8pg., Stelma/ BB2 1/4pg., Hillary/ BB3 1/8pg., White/ BB4 1/8pg.
8/4 Bowler C4 1/8 pg.
8/5 Bowler A6 1/8 pg.
8/6 Krupp, 3/4 pg. A13 – Bowler, 1/8 pg. A16 – Hillary, 1/8 pg. A20 – Stelma, 3/4 pg. A22 – Baxter, 1/2 pg. A26
8/7 York, 1/3 pg. A2 – Hollinrake, 1/2 pg. A5 – Hillary, 1/2 pg. A6 – Timmers, 1/8 pg. A9 – White, 1/8 pg. B3 – Bowler, 1/8 pg. B3, VanderKlok, 1/8 pg. B5

Local TV News Election Coverage Principles

  • Inform viewers/voters of all candidates, races, ballot proposals – and give them information on the issues not just on candidate personalities or where candidates are or what they might do.
  • Any and all race/ballot proposals could be given at least some coverage, even if it is just a mention of who is running or what the proposal is.
  • Follow the recommendation of the Advisory Committee on the Public Interest Obligation of Digital Television Broadcasters (also known as the Gore Commission), where for 30-days prior to elections broadcasters provide 5 minutes per night of candidate centered news. (see Alliance for Better Campaigns www.bettercampaigns.org )
  • Cover third/independent party candidates.
  • When showing presidential polls on the channel or web-site, give percentages for both Ralph Nader and Pat Buchanan.
  • Viewers could be given information about voter guides that have been published.
  • Produce video Voter Guides featuring all candidates in all races for multiple replays.
  • All candidate forums could be announced for several days prior to the event.
  • Candidate forums could be broadcast live or re-broadcast at a future time that would be announced.
  • 5% of the money made from campaign ads could be donated by the stations to an independent, non-partisan organization to fill the void left by the League of Women Voters or to help resurrect the League.
  • Financial funding of candidates should be reported on before and after all races. (How much and from what sources)
  • Explore in more detail reasons for low voter turnout.
  • Use station web sites for more detailed coverage.
  • Operate in the public interest, convenience, and necessity.