Fluff and Stuff
By Chris Harvey & Kevin McNulty
Harvey, a former AJR managing editor and a former associate editor at
washingtonpost.com, teaches Web writing and publishing at the University of Maryland. Kevin McNulty is a former AJR editorial assistant.
SINCE JESSE VENTURA was sworn in as Minnesota's governor in January, there's been no shortage of prominent coverage of him in the Twin Cities papers.
The St. Paul Pioneer Press had at least 168 front-page stories mentioning him between January 1 and July 31; Minneapolis' Star Tribune ran at least 132 A-1 stories mentioning him, Lexis-Nexis searches revealed.
When the search was narrowed to front-page pieces focusing on the governor or his policies, the count came to 83 in the Star Tribune and 88 in the Pioneer Press. AJR sorted those front-page stories into two piles: celebrity/fluff tales and substantive pieces, based on a reading of headlines and opening paragraphs. Among the puff pieces? "Crowd rolls with Stones; Gov. Ventura proclaimed it Rolling Stones Day and then danced at show," from the February 16 Star Tribune; "Ventura all jokes, no bombs with Leno," from the May 27 Star Tribune; "Jesse the Ref Could Earn $1 Million," from the July 15 Pioneer Press. Stories on serious topics, such as "Ventura promises to aid farmers" in the June 15 Star Tribune, were included in the second category.
Although the analysis was subjective, not scientific, the count did shed some light on the dailies' coverage. News pieces greatly outnumbered celebrity features, but the number of light stories was definitely noteworthy.