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ArtPrize trumps democracy: What the Press coverage tells us about the Press

November 4, 2010

Yesterday, we posted the findings of our 56-day study that looked at the Grand Rapids Press election coverage from the day after Labor Day through November 1st.

In that study we also did a comparison to see how much coverage the Press was giving to ArtPrize, since it was taking place in relatively the same time frame as the 2010 Election.

We found that there were almost twice as many ArtPrize articles in the print version of the Grand Rapids Press as there were of election articles, 153 to 87. We also found that comparatively there were 35 ArtPrize stories on the front page of the Press and only 18 election stories.

Big deal. So what’s the point? The point is that this should tell us something about the Grand Rapids Press and news coverage in an age of hyper-capitalism.

First, the most obvious thing about the newspaper’s decision to run more stories about ArtPrize than they did about electoral politics is that it makes clear what their priorities are. And the number one priority of the Grand Rapids Press is not to inform the public, it is to sell newspapers.

Of course this is their number one priority, since they are owned by a for profit company – Advance Publications. But it should be stated that the selling of newspapers is not just about news but about advertising. Indeed, the bulk of the revenue made by the Press is from advertising, not subscriptions and ArtPrize articles, particularly on the front page, helps to create a more positive consumer climate.

As media scholars like Erik Barnouw, Robert McChesney and Lesley Savan have demonstrated in numerous books over the years – newspapers, TV and radio stations always think about the content of their news and its relationship to the advertising. This means that for profit news agencies have to be careful not to provide news that makes us either feel too bad or makes us think in great detail about substantive issues. To do so could limit the public’s ability to be consumers.

Second, despite the fact that news agencies are driven by profits does not necessarily mean they can’t do good journalism. Often journalists and editors will say that they are just giving people what they want. And while it may be true that the public is demanding all ArtPrize all the time, that justification is not part of the widely accepted Principles of Journalism.

Lastly, the data begs the question that if the Press treated election coverage the same way they did ArtPrize coverage would that have an impact of the number and sophistication of voters on November 2nd?

For instance, if there were as many articles about candidate races as there were about ArtPrize, would that make a difference? If there were equally as many front-page stories about the election as there was about ArtPrize would there be more participation in elections? If the Press invited the public to design a front-page cover for the elections like they did for ArtPrize would that have made a difference? If the Press engaged the public in their election coverage the same way it engaged the public who came out to see ArtPrize entries would that encourage people to participate in the electoral process even more?

We may never know the answers to these questions, but it would be worth posing these questions to the Press editor Paul Keep. Send him an E-mail ( and ask him about the difference in the amount and quality of ArtPrize coverage versus Election coverage. If you get a response let us know and we could add your comments to this posting.


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