The Strategy of the Story: Media Monitoring Legislative Activity



To what degree do the news media provide voters with the information needed to hold House members accountable for their actions in Congress? Previous studies have simply debated whether or not local news media cover politicians' actions, but this article considers the news media as a strategic actor when covering House members. I developed a set of theoretical expectations about the conditions under which local news media would be more or less likely to monitor the actions of members of Congress outside of election seasons. I tested these expectations using an extensive content analysis of local newspapers in both descriptive and multivariate settings. I find that local news media are strategic in their coverage of local members of Congress. Local newspapers invest more resources to cover out-of-step members than they do to follow members with policy preferences congruent with the district's. In addition, coverage of out-of-step members tends to be less positive than coverage of in-step members.