In the Journal of Communication’s winter issue, Indiana University professors Erik Bucy and Maria Grabe update a landmark 1992 study, which found that clips of presidential candidates speaking between 1968 and 1992 had dramatically shrunk from an average of one minute to under ten seconds each. Since 1992, say Bucy and Grabe, sound bites have been further compressed into eight-second nibbles. Meanwhile, B-roll of candidates has expanded, and image bites (no words from the candidates) now take up more airtime than sound bites in campaign coverage.
But do the details of the findings offer any hope? Are sound bites, though shorter, more numerous? Nope. Denser with policy content? Afraid not. Shrinking in proportion to the length of news stories? On the contrary. Since 1992, the number of sound bites has hovered at a bit over two per story. Only a third of sound bites address substantive issues or breaking news; and in the average two-minute campaign story, candidates speak for less than twenty seconds.