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Archive for February 15th, 2005

Local TV news: An oxymoron exposed

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Once again, there’s proof that local TV newscasts — with very rare exceptions — haven’t the faintest interest in helping their viewers become enlightened citizens of the republic.

According to a study released Feb. 15, only 8 percent of 4,000 local newscasts in 11 major markets carried a report about a local campaign in the month before the election. (Read the story. Get the report.)

The study, done by University of Wisconsin and Seton Hall University researchers, says stations in markets including New York City, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Miami used eight — yes, that’s eight — times the air time for car crashes and other accidents than it did for local races for federal, state and local offices.


So why do stations do this? We all know why — money. Big money. Profts from news operations are important to overall station profits. (See local news budget research from RTNDA/F.)

It’s cheap to do car crashes, fires and murders. It’s expensive to hire and develop talented reporters with the skills and sources to make meaning out of politics and political doubletalk.

With the death of various public responsibilities — such as the late, lamented Fairness Doctrine — and the FCC’s continual caving in on broadcast ownership standards, there’s no compelling reason for the media monoliths that own local TV stations to serve the public interest.

Oh, their rhetoric says they do. But check their performance by simply watching. Count the number of stories presented in each newscast. Of that number, how many are fires? Accidents? Shootings?

How many are “one-source” stories in which a well-coiffed “talent” holds a mike in front of just one person? How many of those stories represent just the “talent” talking with no apparent source at all? How many of those stories were simple “feel-good” stories?

If you want better performance from local TV newscasts, begin by bitching about them to those who have sway — such as the advertisers carried on those newscasts.

In the current political climate in communication industry regulation, bitching to the FCC doesn’t do a damn bit of good.

— DW


Written by Dr. Denny Wilkins

February 15, 2005 at 11:37 am

Posted in Uncategorized