30 Minutes on Philadelphia TV News: Lots of Political Ads, Zero Political Stories

By Mark Joyella 

KYW-TV_openAnd herein lies some of the problem with getting, as study after study suggest most Americans do, most of your news from local TV: you may be missing something.

The Sunlight Foundation, a nonpartisan nonprofit that advocates for open government, took a look at thirty minutes of local television–specifically, Philadelphia’s CBS-owned KYW. Researchers watched the station’s 6:00 p.m. newscast and found plenty of politics–in the form of nasty political ads–but absolutely no news coverage of the political races themselves:

In the course of one 30-minute newscast on KYW last week, viewers were bombarded with no fewer than 11 political ads, most of them negative. The news program, which aired at 6 p.m. on Oct. 16, featured no political news stories, although in three weeks voters in the region will be heading to the polls to make decisions on the contests that were the subject of the political ads: for governor and state Senate in Pennsylvania; for U.S. Senate in Delaware; and for the U.S. House in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

This particularly vivid example of the way propaganda can trump objective political news in the late stages of a campaign comes from research undertaken for the Philly Political Media Watch, a joint project of the Internet Archive, the Sunlight Foundation, Philadelphia’s Committee of Seventy and the University of Delaware’s Center for Community Research and Service. The project, which is being funded by the Democracy Fund and the Rita Allen Foundation, aims to provide a comprehensive analysis of the political media — and the money behind it — in one of the country’s largest television markets.

This is a big deal. Stations across the country are rushing to cash in on the flood of political advertising, including Philadelphia, where the Sunlight Foundation calculates the ads on just that single 6:00 KYW newscast brought in roughly half a million dollars. And yet where’s the payoff for viewers? They get bombarded with candidates’ propaganda, and the people we trust to fact-check those claims and give us perspective on the races just don’t bother.

KYW did not respond to Sunlight’s request for comment, but University of Pennsylvania political media analyst Kathleen Hall Jamieson did. “Instead of an all-news channel for news junkies, a channel for ad junkies!” she said.