Thursday, January 3, 2013
APME SOUNDING BOARD SURVEY on ELECTION COVERAGE
Many newsrooms devoted lots of resources to fact-checking during the 2012 election. Editors say those efforts seemed popular with voters, but remain uncertain about whether fact-checking really impacted the behavior of candidates.
By Gary Graham and Jim Simon
Many news organizations devoted significant resources to fact-checking candidate’s statements and advertising during the recent election season and generally drew praise from readers for the effort, according to a recent APME survey.
Editors were more uncertain about the impacts of fact-checking on the campaigns. When the accuracy of ads and accuracy of political statements were challenged, nearly three-quarters said the candidates didn’t modify claims. And in no cases, did any candidate pull a challenged ad, according to the editors surveyed.
Still, even when campaigns ignored the fact-checking, several editors felt that it was a worthwhile service for voters.
“While it didn’t seem to affect candidates and their messages, voters noted in interviews that that they were paying attention to fact-checking and that it had some affect in their decisions,” said one editor.
About 50 editors responded to the November Sounding Boards survey about coverage of this year’s elections.
More than half – nearly 58 percent -- said they devoted significant resources to fact checking in their campaign coverage.
At some organizations, reporters simply wedged the fact-checking into other reporting duties. A few editors said they assigned reporters and, sometimes an editor, to fact-checking nearly full time. Another editor said they partnered a member of their watchdog team with a political reporter to produce fact checks.
Most of the respondents, about 62 percent, incorporated the fact checks into their spot news reporting. About 10 percent of those surveyed used a “Truth Needle” or similar gauge that focused on single issues; while 24 percent wrote columns or editorials based on the fact checks.
The fact checks didn’t prompt any changes in the behavior of candidates, according to 72 percent of the editors. About 17 percent said candidates modified their claims after inaccuracies were cited, but no one cited any cases of candidates pulling challenged ads.
Slightly more than half of those surveyed published some of AP’s fact checks in print or online; 14 percent published nearly all or most of AP’s fact checks. Another 15 percent said they used PoliFact or some other fact-checking product.
In other findings, a third of editors who responded said the intensity of the presidential race was the biggest surprise in their coverage of the election.
“As an Ohio newspaper,” wrote one editor,” “we expected to see the candidates and their surrogates, but the number and frequency of visits was beyond our expectations. It started much earlier than in 2004 and continued unabated.”
An editor in the South said the intensity of negative campaigning in the presidential race kept his staff busy trying to produce issues-focused coverage.
Twelve percent of the editors said the U.S. economy and unemployment dominated their coverage.
Eighty-four percent of editors said they did not commission any polling this year. Of those who commissioned polling, most said collaborating with other news organizations made the polling possible.
More than 60 percent of the newspapers published voter guides in 2012 with 53 percent of them providing both print and online versions.
More than a third offered online-only guides while 10 percent produced print sections. One newspaper's online-only section received more than one million page views.
During the campaign season, AP’s interactives were used by 12 percent of those surveyed, while 26 percent only used the election night map.