Election Ads Overshadowed TV News 7-to-1

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DATA SOURCE: Internet Archive GRAPHIC: Noah Arroyo RESEARCH: Noah Arroyo, Meka Boyle and Cody Wright

For the 10 weeks between Aug. 25 and Election Day in 2015, San Francisco’s five English-language commercial television stations serving the San Francisco Bay Area (KRON, KTVU, KNTV, KPIX and KGO) aired a combined 25.8 hours of paid political ads. By comparison, the same stations aired about 3.5 hours of election news coverage. In all 11 major stations we monitored, including those producing no original news, ads took up 47.4 hours.

These findings are based on data made available by the TV Archive, a project of the Internet Archive, which conducted a search of televised political ads, noting the times and durations that each type of ad aired. The Public Press analyzed those results. To tabulate news coverage, we manually searched closed captions of programs that the Archive publishes online.

It is possible that we missed some news reports. Keywords could have been misspelled within the television stations’ captions, or the on-screen reporter may have referred indirectly to an election topic without explicitly naming it. In the case of then-Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi, he sometimes appeared in the news for reasons unrelated to the election — we chose to omit those instances to the best of our abilities. No stations provided us with counts of their total ad and news coverage airtimes, and some said that they do not track this. This graph does not incorporate news aired on KOFY, which rebroadcasts KGO’s news.

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