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JOURNAL WATCH: “Image Bytes” in Election Coverage

Scholars have long warned about the increasing sound bite nature of our media and political system, but overlooked is the visual nature of this trend. A new study in the Journal of Communication is the first to systematically track and contextualize this troubling tendency of the American public sphere:

Taking Television Seriously: A Sound and Image Bite Analysis of Presidential Campaign Coverage, 1992-2004

This study updates and builds on Hallin’s landmark investigation of sound-bite news by documenting the prevalence of candidate image bites, where candidates are shown but not heard (as opposed to being shown and heard), in general election news over 4 election cycles. A visual analysis of broadcast network (ABC, CBS, and NBC) news coverage of the 1992, 1996, 2000, and 2004 U.S. presidential elections finds that image bites constituted a greater percentage of total campaign coverage than sound bites, with candidates appearing in image bites significantly more than sound bites. Even as candidate sound bites continue to shrink over time, image-bite time is increasing in duration–and candidates are being presented in image bites almost twice as much as journalists. Sound bites are also found to be largely attack and issue focused. Based on these findings, we call for greater appreciation of visual processing, nonverbal communication, and voter learning from television news in the study of media and politics.


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