AR; Candidate winnowing, and what the “Internet” is

Journalists, through their pre-selecting candidates in primaries, are a crucial part in election campaigns: the more they consider a candidate worthy of attention, the easier it will be for this candidate to raise funding. But the more funds a candidate raises, the newsworthier they will become, in a self-reinforcing process. So far, so good; a recent paper by Todd L. Belt, Marion R. Just, and Ann N. Crigler illustrates this winnowing of candidates through the example of the 2008 US presidential primaries.

There is one point in the article that left me puzzled. After comparing candidate coverage across “a wide range of traditional and new media, including […] legacy and web-native Internet news,” the authors conclude that “the tone of Internet news was slightly more balanced than [that of] traditional outlets.” They also suggest that “although the Internet has the potential to offer substantial in-depth coverage, preoccupation with the horse race dominated the web as it did traditional outlets.”

– none of which is terribly surprising if you consider the online outlets that were included in the sample: CNN.com, Yahoo! News, MSNBC.com, Google News, and AOL News. Mainstream media, when put online, won’t stop being mainstream media. In other words, I think that the diversity potential of the web, if there is such a thing at all, stems from the fact that it makes a large number of (potentially) smaller, alternative, non-elite, non-mainstream sources available. Granted: sampling online sources is always difficult. But I still think that equating “the Internet” with these 5 sources is somewhat unfortunate.

Todd L. Belt, Marion R. Just, Ann N. Crigler (forthcoming): Handicapping the Candidates in Newspapers, on TV, Cable and the Internet. International Journal of Press/Politics.

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