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Local TV news: An oxymoron exposed

with 3 comments

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

3 Responses

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  1. There’s a psychic barrier where news is concerned that I think it’s almost impossible for us to get past, even when we rationally KNOW it to be true, and that’s this: news is NOT about news, the public interest, informing the citizenry, etc. It is, purely and simply, a business. It’s car sales. It’s Starbuck’s. The GAP. And dare I say, prostitution. Thanks to the 1st Amendment and a couple centuries-plus of high-falutin’ rhetoric about freedom and principles and whatnot we have it in our heads that somehow a news agency ought to act a certain way.
    Maybe we’d get equally exercised about McDonald’s had the Bill of Rights included language assuring the right to sell hamburgers.
    We can’t change what these companies are. We have to change how we think about them. For better or worse, the Framers did nothing to insulate the public’s need for knowledge about its world from the ravages of corporatism….


    February 15, 2005 at 4:52 pm

  2. This is Amazing!
    I was in disbelief when one of my fellow students told me you have a live journal. But here it is. And I must say, rather refreshing to read things that are relevant, rather than to read my friends whine for once. I will make sure to keep up with your entries. They intrigue me. And they make me realise I need to pay much more attention to what’s going on outside the “Bona Bubble”


    February 18, 2005 at 12:36 am

  3. just bad news
    I just added you to my friends list after I followed this post from . Welcome aboard.
    I just got fired from my newspaper job of six years for trying to stand up to my publisher’s policy of sacrificing news for profit margin. So I’m starting my own, and next election when the other paper wants to skip the primary because no one there understands the issues, there will be something people in the community can read and be informed by.
    Unfortunately, inability or unwillingness to create an enlightened population is not limited to broadcast media. Sigh.


    March 2, 2005 at 10:24 pm

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