For decades, growing numbers of scholarly studies have criticized mass media coverage of election campaigns as generally unhelpful to voters. Among the key complaints are that 1) coverage often focuses on the horse race rather than how the candidates would address important issues and 2) reporters appear to treat some candidates more harshly than others. Do reporters covering Virginia gubernatorial elections do a better job than their counterparts on the presidential election campaign trail? This article by two media scholars, Stephen J. Farnsworth of the University of Mary Washington and S. Robert Lichter of George Mason University, analyzes the content of newspaper stories on the 2013 Virginia gubernatorial contest between Terry McAuliffe, the Democratic nominee; Ken Cuccinelli, the Republican nominee, who had been serving as attorney general; and Robert Sarvis, a Libertarian. McAuliffe ended up receiving 48 percent of the vote, Cuccinelli 45 percent, and Potts less than 7 percent. "While we hesitate to generalize too much from news coverage of one campaign," the authors write, "we can make some important observations regarding coverage of the 2013 Virginia gubernatorial election. When we compare campaign coverage by the state press corps with that of the national press corps, we find more effective reporting at the state level." There are frequent allegations of partisan bias in national election coverage, especially with television news – a trend that the researchers said was not reflected as much in state election coverage.
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The Virginia News Letter