Sound Bite Democracy: Network Evening News Presidential Campaign Coverage, 1968 and 1988

By Kiku Adatto

A paper by Kiku Adatto, fall 1989 fellow, analyzes how televised news coverage of presidential campaigns has changed, and finds that sound bites have been steadily shrinking. The average sound bite, or block of uninterrupted speech, from a presidential candidate fell from 42.3 seconds in 1968 to only 9.8 seconds in 1988, writes Adatto. In 1968, almost half of all sound bites were 40 seconds or more in length, while in 1988, less than 1 percent were. Her study analyzes coverage from ABC, CBS and NBC, and asks: what becomes of democracy when it is reduced to sound bites and one-liners?

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