Why Is There so Much Horse-Race Coverage?
Paul Krugman wonders why the media is dominated by horse-race reporting rather than substantive inquiries into policy. His hypotheses, however, all assume agency on the part of the reporter: Maybe horse races are easier to research, he wonders, or simpler to write about. But I'd suggest that the problem lies more with the reader. The media likes having an audience. And the audience likes horse-race coverage.
One way to see this is to note that the more competitive the market, the more the focus will be on horse races, outrage, personalities, gaffes and, generally speaking, political entertainment. PBS, for instance, has just about none of that. Cable news, however, is entirely based around horse races and scandal. Newspapers have a relatively high level of substance, as you might expect from institutions that long enjoyed local monopolies. But online offerings -- think Politico, Huffington Post, or even the blogosphere -- trend toward horse races, outrage, and entertainment. NPR is sober stuff. Talk radio isn't. And so it goes.
Moreover, these markets are merging. Everyone competes online. CNN has to fend off Fox. The Washington Post is conscious of the challenge from Politico. Back in the day, you could ignore audience preferences or enjoy a comfortable ignorance about them. Today, political obsessives can waste their time anywhere. If your outlet isn't as much fun as another outlet, they'll abandon you.
This is the market getting more efficient. This is the market learning how to deliver more of what people want (Sarah Palin) and less of what they don't want (the difficulties of adjusting Medicare payment rates). If policy stories begin swamping servers, people will hire more policy reporters. But there's not much evidence of that happening. That's not to say there's no room for substantive policy coverage. But the more eyeballs matter, the less substantive coverage there'll be, and I don't think it'll be the fault of reporters. A lot of the policy coverage that happens right now exists not because the audience wants it, but because the media decides they need it. As the market becomes competitive, that type of reportorial paternalism will become less and less viable.
Posted by: Sophomore | August 31, 2009 3:01 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: brucew07 | August 31, 2009 3:04 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: AronB | August 31, 2009 3:06 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: RichardHSerlin | August 31, 2009 3:11 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: JimPortlandOR | August 31, 2009 3:16 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: someBrad | August 31, 2009 3:43 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: TomServo | August 31, 2009 3:47 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: pseudonymousinnc | August 31, 2009 4:24 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: rt42 | August 31, 2009 4:26 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: cmpnwtr | August 31, 2009 4:33 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: HalHorvath | August 31, 2009 4:38 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: pj_camp | August 31, 2009 8:00 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: HalHorvath | August 31, 2009 10:33 PM | Report abuse
The comments to this entry are closed.