ST. BONAVENTURE, NY -- News coverage of higher education may share a common flaw with political reporting, according to a St. Bonaventure University Jandoli School of Communication faculty member.
“Political reporters tend to focus on horse race issues such as polls, fundraising and endorsements that have little consequence for public policy,” Richard A. Lee, an associate professor, said.
Lee, a former political reporter, believes higher education coverage suffers from a similar problem.
“Journalists tend to focus on events and numbers, not the critical issues confronting colleges and universities,” he said.
Lee will address the issue Sunday in a presentation at the New York State Communication Association’s 76th Annual Conference at the Villa Roma Resort and Conference Center in Callicoon, New York.
He plans to discuss the initial stages of his research project examining news coverage of higher education.
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.
“I want to determine the degree to which the news media is covering these and other critical issues and then explore the quantity and quality of the reporting,” Lee said.
As part of the project, Lee tracked news coverage of St. Bonaventure during the month of September.
“Before I begin an extensive content analysis, I thought it would be valuable to take a one-month snapshot of what the media is writing about one university,” Lee explained.
Lee's snapshot search yielded 90 stories about St. Bonaventure posted online during September. More than two thirds (67) of the articles were about sports.
“Honestly, I’m not surprised the ratio isn’t higher,” Interim Vice President for University Relations Tom Missel said. “Colleges that play interscholastic sports, especially those at the NCAA Division I level, churn out releases at a far greater clip than their counterparts in public relations.
“Moreover, the teams our athletes are competing against come from 13 other markets in the league alone, so there is far more likelihood that a paper in Richmond will run a Richmond-Bonaventure baseball game story than there is that they will run a release about a speaker talking about cybersecurity coming to SBU’s campus,” Missel added.
Nearly half (10) of the 23 non-sports stories originated from news releases issued by St. Bonaventure.
Missel said universities can now play a more significant role than ever in what the media reports about them because of “the erosion of reporting staffs in newsrooms across the country.”
Lee's presentation, "Is Higher Education Coverage Suffering from the Same Maladies as Political Reporting?" is part of a panel discussion titled "Dark Side of Media in Contemporary Culture," The session will begin at 9 a.m. and continue until 10:15 a.m.