Module JG040

Bandwagon Journalism

Module author

Kim Walsh-Childers

University of Florida

Learning objectives After studying this module, you will be able to:
  • Define bandwagon journalism;
  • Explain why in today's media world journalists often copy text from others;
  • Reflect bandwagon journalism critically.
Study point 1
Reading extract Bandwagon Journalism


Why Open School of Journalism believes that Bandwagon Journalism is important zu know

Bandwagon journalism refers to the tendency of journalists to follow and report on the same stories as other journalists or to stick close to major trends. Historically, the term cropped up most frequently in reference to political news coverage. To call something bandwagon journalism is meant as an insult that implies the reporting is unoriginal or lacks intellectual merit and should be dismissed by readers or viewers.

The driving force behind bandwagon journalism is, in essence, grabbing the low hanging fruit. If something appears popular or to have strong and growing social support, covering it appears to make sense because people seem to have an inherent interest in the subject. The widespread reporting on the so-called "occupy movement" by every major news outlet, for example, serves as a case in point for how bandwagon journalism works. 

The numbers of occupy protesters were growing rapidly, and they were protesting banks and stock market manipulators, two groups that were almost universally loathed at the time. Rather than individual journalists digging into the story to do something original, every news organization and their reporters aired and wrote more or less identical stories about the protests. 

On the political front, the term also refers to two specific trends in political coverage. One is positive bandwagon journalism, in which a candidate perceived to be in a strong position is reported on more frequently and with more positive spin than the other candidates in the race. On the flip side of the equation are candidates that appear to be in trouble who find themselves suddenly on the receiving end of addition, very critical coverage. 

The 2012 Republican Presidential Primaries showed this tendency for journalists to fixate briefly on a candidate that seemed to have momentum, such as Michelle Bachman, only for the coverage to turn critical as soon as the momentum faltered. Other candidates that experienced similar and short-lived positive-to-negative-to non-existent coverage included former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich.

It remains an open question as to whether these kinds of additional positive and negative coverage actually yield a substantive impact on the results of elections for the candidates that receive the coverage. It is likely that other candidates in the races who enjoy less coverage of either the positive or negative kind probably do suffer poor results at the polls through simple lack of voter familiarity. 

Although the term bandwagon journalism has fallen out of common usage, it bears some resemblances in meaning and effect to a contemporary term: pack journalism. Pack journalism is distinguished from bandwagon journalism by the tendency of journalists to focus less on broad trends and more on the reporting of other journalists. 

Both journalists and editors tend to follow the behavioral tendencies or norms of other journalists in order to avoid losing out on breaking news opportunities or falling out of the mainstream. The end result is redundancy in reporting from all outlets, rather than a diversity of reporting across the spectrum of contemporary events. As with bandwagon journalism, pack journalism occurs more commonly in political news, when literal packs of journalists travel and work in extremely close proximity to one another.