By Matthew Rusling
WASHINGTON, Sept. 25 (Xinhua) -- U.S. newsrooms are dumbing down their elections coverage more than previously, focusing even more on the candidates' gaffes and foibles instead of their policies, some experts said.
While candidates' verbal mishaps and tit-for-tat jabs have always been a mainstay of U.S. elections coverage, the explosion of online news sites over the past decade has ratcheted up media competition, with newsrooms feverishly seeking any trivial nugget to keep up with a sea of online competitors.
The blisteringly fierce competition has made news organizations all the more beholden to perceived consumer demand for coverage that is more entertaining than informative, the experts said.
"The media companies are currying your favor by dumbing things down," said Robert Lichter, director of the Center for Media and Public Affairs at George Mason University, speaking about what he said was popular demand for trivial coverage.
"If you hear that a candidate makes a gaffe, you're going to have more people interested and therefore more clicks on your story than if a candidate discusses a serious issue," he said.
A quick Google search of key words such as "Romney" or "Obama" reveals a list that often changes by the hour, with reportage focusing mostly on the horse race and punditry, with few stories digging into candidates' educational, foreign or domestic policies.
Some stories have more staying power, such as challenger Mitt Romney's recent statement that 47 percent of American households do not pay income taxes, but many news bits are reported and forgotten within a day or less.
Playing a role is also the surge of smart phones and other mobile devices for which content must be parsed down to its bare bones to be read on tiny screens.
"The mobile devices encourage even more abbreviated and compact reportage. Now it's got to be interesting, its go to be fun, it's got to be brief," he said.
Shrinking news rooms are also having an impact on coverage. As news organizations cut staff, there is little capacity to write thought provoking analysis on candidates' policies.
The ocean of available online news stands in sharp contrast to the three-network dominance of yesteryear's news cycle.
"It's a strange dynamic that there's a high level (of coverage) available if you want it and yet the culture in general is being driven down and down and down," Lichter said.
MORE NEGATIVE TONE THAN BEFORE
Other experts argue that this election season is taking a more negative tone than previously, with the public being fed a daily news diet of charges that U.S. President Barack Obama is mishandling the economy and accusations that Republican challenger Mitt Romney is a heartless capitalist out of touch with main street America.
Mark Jurkowitz, associate director of the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism, said these negative assertions are coming less from the press and more from the campaigns themselves.
Indeed, the media has ceded somewhat its role as an institution that vets and challenges candidates' claims and become one that is increasingly allowing itself to be used as a megaphone for each candidate to attack the other, he said.
The press is not playing as aggressive a role as it once did in standing between the public and the combative assertions being thrown around by each campaign, a situation again driven by shrinking news rooms and fiercer competition.
Pew also found that a candidate ahead in the polls will receive more positive coverage, even further solidifying his lead.
"Winning itself...actually becomes the dominant narrative. If you are perceived as losing, then you are going to get negative coverage," he said.