Sports, not academics, dominate higher education coverage

By Richard Lee

News coverage of higher education may share a common flaw with political reporting.

Political reporters tend to focus on “horse race issues” such as polls, fundraising, endorsements and “shiny objects” that have little consequence for public policy but are likely to draw readers and viewers. An anecdotal observation of higher education coverage suggests a similar problem. Journalists tend to focus on events and numbers, not the critical issues confronting colleges and universities. 

Among the issues confronting higher education today are fiscal items, such as a tuition rates, student debt and college solvency; challenges to the traditional college model both inside and outside the classroom; student safety and campus civility.

But a preliminary study of news stories about one Western New York university found that sports received more than twice the amount of news coverage as academic issues.

A one-month content analysis of St. Bonaventure University’s news coverage showed that 90 stories about the university were posted online during September 2018. More than two thirds (67) of the articles were about sports.

This database of news reports about St. Bonaventure can serve as a model to develop a more longitudinal study.

Richard Lee is an associate professor in the Jandoli School of Communication at St. Bonaventure University. This article is a summary of a presentation he delivered on Oct. 14, 2018, at the New York State Communication Association’s 76th Annual Conference at the Villa Roma Resort and Conference Center in Callicoon, New York.

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