A content analysis of twenty-one local-news-on-cable stations reveals programs contain 20 percent more news, 15 percent less advertising, and less violent content and triviality than most over-the-air local news stations. A bold, innovative show is a newscast from City Pulse 24 in Toronto, Ontario, which uses seven different information windows on the television screen to constantly air news, weather, sports, stock averages, traffic conditions, headlines and the date and time. Other quality cable newscasts include Las Vegas One in Nevada, NY-1 in New York City and News 12 on Long Island, New York. At the other extreme is The Times on WAMI in Miami, which offers tabloid stories, celebrity items and soft news, with little effort to report on the important events of the day.
Other innovations in the sample include short weather reports that air every ten or fifteen minutes, a single anchor-person who also reads the sports or weather, and regular features like community calendars, traffic reports, dating information, entertainment and health packages.
Rocky Mountain Media Watch
P.O. Box 18858
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s303 832-7558; 303 292-9317 (fax)
Seven-hundred and fifty commercial television stations in 211 metropolitan markets across the U.S. make up the local TV news industry. The viewing audience for local television news is huge: perhaps 80 million viewers each night. Seventy-five percent of adult Americans say they watch local TV news at least several times a week, making local television news programs a prime information source for citizens and a major money maker for TV stations.
Not surprisingly, other television entities are trying to break into this lucrative business. As part of Rocky Mountain Media Watchs ongoing study of local news quality, we present here a snapshot content analysis of twenty-one different local-news-on-cable stations across the U.S.
Volunteers in 21 cities taped the evening news on their local cable stations on Wednesday, June 23, 1999 and sent the tapes to Rocky Mountain Media Watch for analysis. The 21 cable stations included in the sample are listed in the Appendix.
For the content analysis, each taped newscast was viewed one item at a time and the subject matter and duration of each item noted. The amount of news, commercials, sports, weather, promotions, anchor chatter and public service announcements was measured. Within the news, items were placed in one of twenty-six topics, such as crime, education and environment, and also coded as local, national or international. The amount of news dealing with violent topics was quantified as the Mayhem Index, and the trivial components of the show were measured as the Fluff Index. The gender and ethnicity of anchors and reporters, as well as all persons who appear as sources in newscasts, was noted. A more detailed explanation of survey methods is listed in the Appendix.
The sample of 21 newscasts includes seven one-hour shows, thirteen half-hour programs and one fifteen-minute newscast. There is more variation in broadcast times for cable news shows than on over-the air channels and many cable news channels repeat their newscasts every thirty or sixty minutes. Some broadcasts represent regional cable networks serving several states, such as the New England Cable Network and the (Pacific) Northwest Cable Network; others are statewide, like Texas Cable News and the Ohio News Network, or broadcast to a single cities, such as NY-1 in New York City, Pittsburgh Cable News and Chicagoland TV. The countrys largest markets, New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington, DC, San Francisco, Boston and Dallas are represented, as are some mid-size markets, such as Nashville, Orlando and Columbus, OH, and a few smaller metropolitan areas, like Tallahassee, Las Vegas and Rochester, NY.
Several very innovative broadcasts are noted and are discussed in detail below. Most, however, mimic the traditional format of standard local TV news. Taken as a whole, the 21 newscasts in the sample contain more news than over-the-air newscasts (50.9 percent versus 41.3 percent) and fewer commercials (24.0 percent versus 31.4 percent). While topics in the news change from day to day, the overall architecture of programs, such as the amount of news and ads, does not. One probable reason there are fewer ads on cable newscasts is that cable stations lack the viewership to attract as many advertisers. Additionally, this sample contains a higher percentage of stations from the countrys largest markets where competition keeps the total amount of advertising at lower levels than in smaller markets.
Wednesday, June 23, 1999 is an average news day and no single national or international story dominates the news. The President is visiting refugee camps in Macedonia and U.N. troops are in Kosovo helping with the Albanian re-settlement. A national search is on for a man dubbed the rail-yard killer. Within the news segments in the sample, 11 of the 21 lead stories are crime- related, including 7 murder stories, and stories about crime are the main news topic (19.7 percent of news-time). Eighty-two percent of crime coverage is about murder stories. Most of the crime reporting (80 percent) concerns local events. Other news topics include stories about government (11.2 percent), economics and business (10.0 percent), health (7.8 percent), environment (7.8 percent) and arts and culture (5.7 percent). Seventy-five percent of all the news is local, 20 percent is national in origin and five percent is international.
Overall, the amount of violent news, measured as the Mayhem Index, is 29.5 percent of the news. This is twenty-five percent less than the Mayhem Index of over-the-air stations noted in a 1998 RMMW survey. Concerning diversity issues, of the 68 anchor-persons in the sample, 49 (72 percent) are male and 19 (28 percent) female. Eighty-five percent of the anchors are white, 12 percent black and three percent Latino or Asian.
Of 104 reporters, 54 percent are male and 46 percent are female. Seventy-five percent of the reporters are Caucasian, 11 percent are African-American, 10 percent are Latino and 4 percent are Asian or Arabic. Among the 274 sources who speak in the newscasts, 209 (77 percent) are male and 220 (83 percent) are white. These measurements of ethnic and gender diversity are very similar to those of previous RMMW surveys of over-the-air local newscasts.
Weather reporting is a popular component of local newscasts and, not surprisingly, the cable stations in the sample are experimenting with new patterns of airing weather information. City Pulse 24 in Toronto constantly displays graphic weather data. NY-1 in Manhattan and Chicagoland TV each have four brief (30 second) weather summaries within their one-hour newscast, while eight other stations broadcast three weather reports within the newscast. On about half the stations, the regular anchor-person reads the simplified weathercast.
Reports of road conditions, construction and traffic flows are noted in four shows with maps pinpointing trouble spots and images from fixed cameras located along major highways.
On five stations, usually near the end of the program, a thirty-to-sixty second listing of community events is presented, including the location of the event, time, ticket information and a phone number for more information. Several of these have a commercial sponsor.
In a departure from the dual male/female anchor team found on most commercial stations, what Mark Miller has dubbed the survival of the cutest, five stations present the news with a single anchor-person. This cuts down on the opportunity for chit-chat or happy-talk as well as saving the station considerable salary expenses.
Regular or syndicated features are widely used on over-the-air local newscasts. These include health news, entertainment happenings, stock market reports, consumer tips, the world-in-a- minuteand crime-stoppers. These same items appear on some cable news shows, as well as such segments as where to go to meet singles, travel-getaways, todays trivia question, top five video rentals and internet tips.
City Pulse 24, Toronto, Canada
City Pulse 24, local news on cable in Toronto, Ontario, began operating in January, 1998 and reaches over two million cable subscribers. It is without a doubt the most information-packed newscast in North America. The viewing screen is divided into seven separate information windows as follows:
1. Across the bottom is a constant crawl of stock market information.
2. Above this is a revolving succession of sports scores and schedules.
3. Above this is a revolving series of news headlines, each 10 to 30 words.
4. At the top right is a clock, with day, date and time in seconds.
5. Underneath this is a local weather report with temperatures, conditions and forecasts.
6. Underneath the weather are live video pictures from the major highways around Toronto. The station also has access to over 100 city-operated fixed video systems.
7. Finally, the top-left window, comprising about 35 percent of the screen, is the actual live newscast with anchors, reporters, news stories and graphics.
The multi-window format remains throughout the one-hour show, except when advertisements are aired; then the camera zooms up so that the commercial fills the entire screen.
The live newscast itself, simulcast from an over-the-air City TV broadcast, contains many intriguing features. Fifty-five percent of the show is actual news with an average story length of one minute and twelve seconds. Twenty percent of the newscast is commercials. (In a 1998 RMMW study, comparable figures across the U.S. were 41 percent news, 30 percent ads and 45 second story length.) Crime stories constitute 20 percent of the news this day, followed by arts, 19 percent, environment, 12 percent, health, 12 percent and government, eight percent.
Reporters are used in 12 separate stories during the newscast; twice the U.S. average. Reporters are focused on specialty beats, like financial, environment and crime, a practice rarely seen on American local TV news. Additionally, the reporters are a diverse group that include five whites, four blacks, two Asians and one Latino.
The play-list contains eleven separate items about two minutes in length and includes interesting subject matter such as:
-- A blind womans successful discrimination suit against a church that refused to allow her guide dog entry into the church. A toxic fire in Havana (not reported on any U.S. station in the sample).
-- A funeral service for a political leader. The presentation is very dignified, uses voice-over sparingly and emphasizes the sights, sounds and ambience of the memorial service.
-- A two-minute feature on attempts to re-stock Atlantic salmon into Canadian lakes, where the reporter works alongside the field biologists giving a very real flavor of the actual work and research questions.
Play-list, City Pulse 24, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Item# ---Length--- Subject
1 :24 Introduction
Lead 1:51 Police seek clues in possible murder.
3 1:58 Police seek man and in embezzlement case. He lived lavishly, then disappeared.
4 2:04 Priest fined for refusing to allow guide dog into church.
5 :29 Woman who abandoned son in freezing car goes to jail.
6 1:57 Crackdown on illegal idling of vehicles in Toronto to prevent smog.
7 1:40 Coping with the heat, vox populi, advice, tips.
8 :20 Weather
9 :14 Woman assaulted in her home.
10 :38 New shelter to open for homeless; will cost $40/night/person to operate.
11 1:40 Funeral for political leader.
12 1:20 Entertainment feature
13 2:07 Sports
14 :36 Preview
15 2:00 Commercials
16 1:06 World news feature: Kosovo developments.
17 1:47 Interview with local activist just back from Kosovo.
18 :24 Toxic fire in Havana, Cuba.
19 :40 Car engulfed by flash flood in El Paso TX (very dramatic home video).
20 :17 Brush fire in Ottawa.
21 :40 Layoffs are painful at greeting card company.
22 :18 Idea for a North American common currency.
23 :19 Stock market report
24 1:59 Proposed changes in Canadian health care system to provide better access.
25 :56 Speakers corner -vox populi about what a great country Canada is.
26 2:16 Commercials
27 :24 Investigation: It is easy for kids to buy cigarettes.
28 :55 Elementary kids donate money to poverty center.
29 :34 Boy wins job as policeman for a day.
30 :19 DUI information program.
31 1:47 Mayor walks neighborhood to build community
32 1:57 Attempt to re-stock Atlantic salmon- field study.
33 The last 20 minutes contain sports (5 minutes), entertainment features (5 minutes), ads (7 minutes) and weather (3 minutes).
Las Vegas One - Las Vegas, NV
Las Vegas One, which began broadcasting in April, 1998 and reaches 325,000 subscribers, is a joint venture of the Las Vegas Sun, Cox Communications and KLAS - Channel 8 Eyewitness News. It broadcasts news 23 hours a day.
Todays newscast is impressive in several parameters. Actual news fills 65.4 percent of the air- time, with commercials at 19.5 percent. Previews, promotions and teases take up a relatively low 2.5 percent of the program; another 1.7 percent is devoted to public service announcements. There is no sports coverage within the one-hour show. Todays main news topic is arts and humanities, at 23.9 percent of the news-time, followed by elections (15.7 percent), mainly due to a six minute in-studio interview with a potential senatorial candidate. Crime stories are a low 7.3 percent of the news.
Several in-depth, well produced stories are noted:
-- Congress debates patients bill of rights - good details and depth.
-- Bureaucratic delays getting art donations to state - in studio interview.
-- Historical and environmental look at a Nevada mountain area with old photos and an artistic presentation.
Play-list - Las Vegas One
Item#--- Length--- Subject
1 :20 Introduction
Lead 2:43Warning; fire ants found in Las Vegas; notify authorities if you see them.
3 2:16 Emergency exercise conducted for toxic spills.
4 1:32 Man arrested for burning Mormon churches.
5 :40 Closing arguments in murder trial of retarded man.
6 :56 Airport expansion plan.
7 :28 Milk prices may rise.
8 :11 Preview
9 1:58 Commercials
10 6:02 Businessman considers running for Senate. live in-studio interview.
11 :06 Preview
12 :58 Community calendar
13 1:02 Commercials
14 3:10 Weather
15 1:21 Weekly traffic and construction update
16 :11 Preview
17 1:58 Commercials
18 3:04 Kosovo developments.
19 :36 National manhunt for rail-yard killer.
20 :47 AMA votes to form union.
21 2:36 Congress debates patients bill of rights.
22 :05 Preview
23 1:30 Commercials
24 :30 PSA for Nevada State health dept on fathers
25 2:56 Preview of National Gambling Commission Report.
26 :18 Local resort opening delayed.
27 :18 Sports awards preview.
28 :08 Preview
29 2:00 Commercials
30 5:25 Bureaucratic delays getting art donations to state - in studio interview.
31 :16 Preview
32 2:00 Commercials
33 3:45 Historical and environmental look at Nevada mountain area.
34 3:09 Weather
35 1:40 Man rides bizarre 1500 speed bike.
36 :12 Outro
37 1:00 Commercials
38 :30 PSA - Arbor day Foundation
NY 1 - New York City, NY
NY-1 started broadcasting in 1992 and reaches 1.6 million households in New York City. According to the station, nine out of 10 cable subscribers watch NY-1 several times a week.
The basic format is a half-hour news wheel. A single anchor-person reads the news and the weather. A full 61.5 percent of the show is news, with 21.4 percent commercials and only 3.4 percent weather. Todays main news topic is government (28.3 percent of the news), followed by crime, 18 percent, business, 13 percent and media, 10 percent. Of the 11 reporters on todays show, seven are female and four male.
Several excellent items in the show are a three minute piece on NY public schools and a group of in- depth stories on local problems - subway crime, tour buses, the Trump Tower and lead paint. Also included are a community calendar, traffic report, travel feature, stock report, movie review and two PSAs.
Play-list NY-1, New York City, NY
Item #--- Length--- Subject
1 :13 Introduction
Lead 2:54 Reorganization of NY public schools; fire personnel, close 13 schools; raise teacher pay.
3 :26 Zodiac killer found guilty.
4 :47 Trial of squeegee man continues.
5 :22 Man arrested for smuggling counterfeit treasury notes.
6 :22 Suspected arson in horse fire.
7 3:57 Detailed coverage of Knicks playoff game.
8 :20 Rock star assaults record company executive.
9 :35 Weather
10 :36 Preview
11 1:55 Commercials
12 :56 Lawyer speaks about police code of silence.
13 3:40 City nixes party at Navy yard because of Hillary Clinton appearance.
14 :30 Elizabeth Dole in town for fund-raiser.
15 :38 Preview
16 2:15 Commercials
17 :30 PSA - fire prevention
18 :30 Commercial
19 2:03 New Trump Tower draws complaints about height.
20 2:17 Tour buses clash with local residents about parking & idling.
21 :25 Phone cables cut.
22 :34 Preview
23 2:34 Commercials
24 1:00 Review of top stories.
25 :34 Weather
26 2;10 Controversial city council bill on lead paint removal; charge bill caves in to special interests.
27 :38 Police seek information on robber; have surveillance video; crime stoppers.
28 2:21 Subway crime rates are down; review of types of crimes, prevention, advice.
29 :48 Kosovo shootings; FBI joins investigation.
30 :18 Jesse Jackson seeks to free aid workers in Balkans.
31 :15 Klansman guilty of cross burning in Virginia.
32 :10 Fire in Philippines.
33 :15 Fire in California.
34 :12 South Carolina aquarium gets turtle.
35 :28 Preview
36 1:45 Commercials
37 :24 Weather
38 :21 Follow-up: story of 81 year old flower shop owner and illegal ads.
39 2:00 Union workers strike against Domino sugar about benefits.
40 1:50 Stock report
41 2:50 Travel feature - local cruise
42 :23 Preview
43 1:30 Commercials
44 :12 PSA - recycling bins and bags.
45 :26 Weather
46 1:17 Traffic report - city sites under construction.
47 :23 Stephen King undergoes surgery.
48 :48 Movie, Son of Sam controversy.
49 2:50 Movie review
50 :27 Local promotion - corporate races
51 :30 Outro
52 2:00 Commercials - includes Bell Atlantic Community Calendar
News 12, Long Island, NY
This is a jam-packed, no-nonsense newscast presented by two female anchors. Eleven separate reporters are utilized in todays broadcast, seven of whom are female and four male. The program contains 49 percent news and 25 percent commercials. The Mayhem Index is low at 19.7 percent. Governmental issues comprise 27 percent of the news, followed by media, 21 percent, education, disaster and crime, each seven percent.
Standout stories include an overview of media violence effects, with excellent depth, quality information and good tips, and a report on the Long Island Railroads 91 percent on-time record. News 12, Long Island, NY Play-list - first two news segments
Item #--- Length--- Subject
1 :12 Introduction
Lead 1:52 Sales tax on clothes repealed in Suffolk county; many views.
3 1:52 Aftermath of fatal raceway fire.
4 :20 Car crashes into house.
5 :32 Emergency disaster drill is successful.
6 1:20 Fans await important basketball playoff game.
7 1:26 Weather
8 :45 Shootout in Kosovo; war crimes investigation.
9 1:55 City to crackdown on parking ticket deadbeats.
10 :22 Preview
11 :24 Call in listener comments on parking tickets.
12 2:00 Commercials
13 :15 Program to give energy efficient appliances to the poor.
14 1:54 Report on Long Island Railroad; on time 91 percent of time.
15 :17 Squeegee man trial proceeds.
16 :15 Man sentenced for selling baby over the internet.
17 :20 Additional charges in Columbine massacre - selling guns.
18 :34 V-chip TV sets go on sale.
19 3:18 Overview of issues about media violence.
20 :18 Boy kills mother for money to buy video paraphernalia.
Tabloid TV News
WAMI, Miami, FL
WAMI (Whammy) in Miami, FL, part of Barry Dillers USA Broadcasting, began about a year ago to present a nightly show at 7:00 pm, repeated at 10:00 pm, called The Times.
The Times is unabashedly not about murder and mayhem or the important events of the day. The single anchor-persons tone is breezy, sardonic and casual. Sixty-one percent of the show is news and 21 percent commercials, with only 6.5 percent sports and 2 percent weather. None of the news qualifies as mayhem, but the Fluff Index is a whopping 88 percent, the highest value we have ever seen in our surveys. Soft news (37 percent) and media related stories (32 percent) are the major news topics. There is zero crime coverage. Todays show has a historical feature and one hard news story: an in-depth environmental piece about the growth pressure on local suburban farmland.
The play-list from June 23 is shown below. According to News Director M. J. Witt, The Times is trying to be an alternative to the notoriously violent local news in Miami.
WAMI, Miami, FL Play-list
Item #--- Length--- Subject
1 :38 Introduction
Lead 2:25 Press conference by woman paid by tabloid to seduce Frank Gifford; a publicity stunt
3 :34 TV station poll regarding todays lead story.
4 1:54 Lying to your spouse; brief vox populi clips; everybody does it.
5 :32 Preview
6 :20 Look back feature - 28 yrs ago, where to put I-95.
7 1:30 Commercials
8 1:00 Vox populi on todays poll question: Who is the most pathetic character in this scandal?
9 3:14 Pressures on farm land from growth, foreign markets and the environment.
10 2:22 Relationship advice for young couple; a Dear Abby type story.
11 : 49 Preview
12 2;32 Commercials (for bartenders school and used hub caps).
13 :28 Preview
14 1:54 Champion female boxer works out at gym.
15 3:12 Product placements in movies reach new lows (many movie clips).
16 1:24 Movie review and ticket give-away.
17 :17 Preview
18 2:04 Commercials
19 :38 Celebrity gossip about Mike Douglass, Kathleen Zeta Jones.
20 :25 Roseanne cries on tour of Israel.
21 :43 Weather
22 :18 Update on todays poll question.
23 :08 Outro
Summary of Other Cable Local Newscasts
Listed below are data and comments about the other newscasts in the sample, highlighting innovative features and calling attention to practices that impressed us as examples of good or bad journalism.
New England Cable News, Boston, MA
Todays 6 pm NECN show is 55.7 percent news and 20.6 percent ads, with zero sports and 15.6 percent weather. The news contains 37.2 percent crime stories, 14.6 percent disaster reporting and 13.7 percent war coverage, resulting in a high Mayhem Index of 65.5 percent. (This means almost two-thirds of the news was about violent topics.)
In operation since 1992, NECN reaches 2.5 million cable subscribers in six New England states and bills itself as The News Station of the Year. While ratings are still below those of over- the-air commercial stations, they have doubled and tripled in the last year.
Pittsburgh Cable News, Pittsburgh, PA
This 10 pm show uses a single anchor. On todays newscast, almost half the news is about crime and half the crime coverage is about murder events. Consequently, the Mayhem Index is high at 62.5 percent. Most of the commercials are for local companies such as a billiards store and a construction company.
NewsChannel 8, Springfield, VA
NewsChannel 8 serves the metropolitan area around Washington, DC. The 11 pm show uses a single anchor and is a low key, no frills show. Fifty percent of the show is news and 23 percent is commercials. The main news topic this day is education (26 percent of the news), followed by crime, 21 percent, and government, 14 percent. The Fluff Index is very low at 8.7. (Commercials include ads for local businesses such as a garden center and furniture store.)
Local News on Cable, Norfolk, VA
A traditional newscast; the data is unremarkable.
Florida News Channel, Tallahassee, FL
Environmental stories are todays main news topic (30 percent of the news), including stories about rescuing birds of prey, laws banning net fishing and warnings about the debris from rocket launches. A short item on the areas top five video rentals seems inappropriate as news.
Gwinnett News, Lawrenceville, GA
This 10 pm newscast is a quiet show. The single anchor also reads the weather. Health, government and economics are the main topics today.
Orange County News, Orange County, CA
OCNs promos attempt to distinguish it from the many over-the-air commercial Los Angeles TV stations. Ads include local businesses such as a retirement home, window installer and a web site designer. The 6 pm show uses a single anchor. Crime (27 percent), economic and business news (22 percent) and education (14 percent) are the main issues in todays newscast. Only five reporters are used in this one-hour show.
Northwest Cable News, Seattle, WA
This polished, regional show re-broadcasts stories from their affiliates in Seattle, Spokane and Portland and its weather report also gives information for Boise and Tri-cities. With crime (25.6 percent) and disaster (23.7 percent) prominent in todays show, the Mayhem Index is high at 53.1 percent. The Fluff Index is low at 9.8. Eight reporters are used, seven male, one female, including the stories re-broadcast from affiliates.
Texas Cable News, Dallas, TX
This channel is a partnership of WFAA, Dallas Morning News and the Texas Cable Network and runs stories from other Texas TV stations KHOU and KVUE. TXCN offers weather every 10 minutes; the regular anchor reads the sports.
Todays 10 pm show contains only 39.7 percent news, similar to what is found on most local newscasts from network affiliates. Nineteen percent is commercials. Another 19 percent is weather. Crime stories (37 percent) are the leading news topic; all the crime coverage is about murder events. Other topics in the news are government (27 percent), economics (19.9 percent) and disaster (15.1 percent). Only three reporters are used during the broadcast, including the two reports from other Texas stations.
Central Florida Cable News 13, Orlando, FL
The 11 pm show contains 50.7 percent news and only 15.7 percent commercials. Another 15.9 percent of air-time is sports and 14.1 percent is weather. The Fluff Index is low at 7.1. Overall, the program is uninteresting and uses only one story with a reporter.
WB20, San Jose, CA
The 10 pm show has two female anchors. The opening news segment contains gratuitous violence and is exploitive; a story on Kosovo warns viewers about graphic pictures, yet dramatic music is used under the voice track, and, while body bags of massacre victims are shown, the voice track is gruesome. Another segment is a four minute feature on singles - where to meet people. A full 16 percent of the broadcast is judged to be soft news.
Bay TV, Oakland, CA
The program contains 56.3 percent news, and a hefty 32.8 percent commercials (almost 20 minutes of ads in a one hour broadcast). There is no sports reporting and only 5.2 percent weather. Health items are the main news topic today (27.2 percent of the news); other prominent topics are education, environment, and war. Only one minute of news is devoted to crime stories (3.4 percent of the news). There are two female anchors.
Several excellent news stories are offered, including a report on contamination of a local reservoir by swimmers and boaters, and a good interview with Al Gore that explores a variety of substantive issues.
R-News, Rochester, NY
The 10 pm program is dominated by a monster 7:14 sportscast (24.4 percent of the show) which includes minor league baseball and womens golf; The Mayhem and Fluff Indexes are low at 20 and 10 respectively, but the newscast itself is judged to be undistinguished.
NewsChannel 5, Nashville, TN
This 10 pm program contains the most commercials in the sample, 33.9 percent; which amounts to almost 12 minutes in a 35 minute show. Crime (32.9 percent) and disaster (19.0 percent) are the major news topics today, resulting in a high Mayhem Index of 53.3 percent.
Chicagoland TV, Chicago, IL
Todays 10 pm broadcast leads with 30 seconds of routine weather; otherwise an unremarkable show.
Ohio News Network, Columbus, OH
The 6:30 show contains a hefty amount sports (17.7 percent of the show) and weather (15.4 percent), including four weather segments per hour.
The most unusual and interesting findings of this report are two new visions, diametrically opposed, of the future of local TV news, characterized by the broadcasts from City Pulse 24 in Toronto and WAMI in Miami. The Toronto broadcast is a delight and increases the amount of hard information available to the viewer by a factor of seven. Within a few minutes the eye accommodates to the multiple information streams on the screen without missing any of the action of the live newscast. The net result is a sensation of substance, choice, intelligence and quality. One can easily see how, in the imminent interactive digital age, the viewer will be able to click on buttons to call up weather, traffic, sports, stocks, schedules, community events, classifieds, etc. on demand.
WAMI in Miami has seen the need for newscasts to abandon the paradigm of if it bleeds, it leads. Standard newscasts on television are overloaded with murder and mayhem and there is no need for more of the same. In the process, however, they have redefined, as Neil Postman has prophesied, the very meaning of news. WAMI presents a not-so-serious universe filled with celebrity, fun, tabloid stories and a little sports and weather. On The Times, the battle between news and entertainment values is over. Entertainment has won.
The unfortunate result is that just when you think the world of TV news couldnt get any softer, it does. Instead of taking the high ground with a substantive show devoted to topics largely ignored on TV news, WAMI has surrendered to the tricks and tactics of tabloid television. Their viewers will not learn much about the important issues and events in Miami.
Previous studies by Rocky Mountain Media Watch, conducted from 1994 to 1999 in all parts of the country and in all size markets, have documented and exposed the formulaic format, structure and content of commercial local newscasts. A constellation of excess characterizes many broadcasts:
Almost half the news, night after night is about violent topics, like crime (mostly murder) disaster, war and terrorism;
A third of the shows is tabloid or trivial content, such as soft news (like meat loaf contests or bears eating popsicles at the zoo), celebrity items, chit-chat and teases.
The dose of commercials averages thirty percent of air-time; some stations devote more time to advertising than to news.
Seventy-five percent of anchor persons are male; 85 percent are white; minorities appear in the news predominantly when they have done something wrong, such as alleged perpetrators.
This formula, which manipulates and arouses viewers, is good for ratings and profit but disastrous for the idea of an informed citizenry and our democracy.
The local-news-on-cable sample, taken as a whole, represents some improvements in this pattern of excess, with more news content, less commercials, slightly less violent content, more PSAs, less happy talk and silly soft news. Other parameters, like the preponderance of male anchors and white male sources are unchanged.
While local TV news is immensely profitable, generating half or more of most stations income, viewership is starting to decline and criticism of the tiresome and manipulative news formula is increasing. Rumblings of change are starting to reverberate throughout the industry. Stations in Austin, Orlando and Tucson are abandoning the if it bleeds, it leads formula. As crime rates fall across the U.S., the entire industry is beginning to question the excessive reliance on police blotter journalism that has characterized local newscasts for decades. A new movement, called Civic Journalism, is catching on, where journalists themselves, distressed with the lack of ethical standards in their industry and the low esteem in which their profession is held, are developing new paradigms to make the news media more responsive to the needs of the public.
Local-news-on-cable is another force challenging the status quo. Here news may be available 24 hours a day and the emphasis on anchor personality that pervades over-the-air local TV news is unnecessary. Almost two-dozen local-news-on-cable shows are now in operation and others are on the drawing board. While some of the programs in our current sample appeared to be cheap imitations of existing local news broadcasts, we did identify some excellent, intelligent and serious news shows, like NY-1, News 12, NECN, Las Vegas One and City Pulse 24, that can successfully nibble at the heels of the profitable local TV news industry.
Certainly, there is room for even more competition. Since traditional local newscasts routinely ignore a range of important topics like education, the environment, politics, the arts, science, poverty and racism, an enterprising station could, by concentrating on these neglected areas, which are of great interest and importance to our communities, carve out a profitable niche of public affairs programming.
Creativity, wisdom, excellence, balance and depth are among the valuesthat have, for too long, been missing in action from local televisionnews. Some local-news-on-cable stations appear to be incorporating theseelements into their shows, a welcome development.
List of Stations
Station--- City--- State--- Broadcast time
New England Cable News Boston MA 6:00 pm
Pittsburgh Cable News Pittsburgh PA 10:00 pm
NewsChannel 8 Springfield VA 11:00 pm
NY 1 New York NY 8:00 pm
Local News on Cable Norfolk VA 10:00 pm
Florida News Channel Tallahassee FL 7:00 pm
News 12 Long Island NY 10:00 pm
Gwinnett News Lawrenceville GA 10:00 pm
Orange County News Orange Co. CA 6:00 pm
Northwest Cable News Seattle WA 10:00 pm
WAMI Miami FL 7:00 pm
Las Vegas One Las Vegas NV 9:00 pm
Texas Cable News Dallas TX 10:00 pm
Central FL Cable News 13 Orlando FL 11:00 pm
WB20 San Jose CA 10:00 pm
Bay TV Oakland CA 9:00 pm
Pulse 24 Toronto Ontario 6:00 pm
R-News Rochester NY 10:00 pm
NewsChannel 5 Nashville TN 10:00 pm
Chicagoland TV Chicago IL 10:00 pm
Ohio News Network Columbus OH 6:30 pm
Newscasts were taped by volunteers and sent to Rocky Mountain Media Watch for analysis. One observer viewed all the tapes. Each newscast was viewed one item at a time; each item was coded for duration and content. The following
parameters were measured:
1. Major Components of Newscasts - News, commercials, sports, weather, promos/previews, anchor chatter and PSAs. Measurements are expressed as a percent of air-time or news-time and are calculated by station.
2. News Topics - Twenty-six categories for news topics are listed below. If a story involves two topics equally, its time is split between the two. This simple categorization by topic does not address the nuances or the quality of the presentation. These are, however, considered in comments made about each station and story while the tape is being viewed.
Crime stories are sub-categorized by crime type (14 categories) such as murder, rape, assault, theft, etc. The location of each story - local/state, national and international - is noted.
3. The "Mayhem Index" is the percentage of news-time given to stories about crime, disaster, terrorism and war.
4. The "Fluff Index" combines the air-time given to previews/promos, anchor chatter, soft news and celebrity stories compared to the total news-time. Soft news does not deal with social issues, public policy or controversies that concern the audience.
5. Gender and ethnicity were recorded for anchors, reporters and all persons appearing and speaking in the news as sources.
News Topic Definitions
A. Arts and Humanities: fine arts productions, institutions, performers.
B. AIDS: all aspects of this disease.
C. Crime: criminal acts and their sequella, including events, arrests, trials, victims; code each crime story for crime- type, e.g. murder, theft, rape, etc.
D. Disaster: natural and man made calamity, including floods, hurricanes, earthquakes, fires, explosions, crashes.
E. Economic and Business: products, companies, jobs, markets, indicators.
F. Soft News: does not deal with social issues, public policy or issues that concern the audience; also called fluff or trivia.
G. Government: laws, policies, issues, hearings, officials and dignitaries.
H. Health: diseases, treatments, public health, wellness, and research.
I. Science: discoveries, studies and research; includes space programs.
J. Religion: about religion, religions, officials, spiritual beliefs.
K. Children: primary focus on issues and opinions of children.
L. Elections: candidates, issues, polls, related events.
M. Labor: workers, contracts, disputes, strikes.
N. Conflict resolution: alternatives to violence, non-violence, violence prevention.
O. Other: does not belong in any other category.
P. Peace: negotiations, peace making, implementation.
Q. Poverty: focus on homelessness, the poor, slums, programs and policies.
R. Reproductive rights: issues of contraception, abortion, family planning.
S. Schools and Education: focus on schools, colleges, personnel, excludes sports.
T. Toxics and the Environment: issues of water, air, soil, ecosystems.
U. Public works: highways, airports and public construction, infrastructure.
V. Over-Population: primary focus on human population growth and its side-effects.
W. War and Terrorism: organized armed conflict between or within nations and adversaries.
X. Civil rights: discrimination, constitutional rights.
Y. Human Interest: significant awards, achievements, obituaries.
Z. Media: about TV, radio, music, journalism, print, film, personalities and popular culture.
About Rocky Mountain Media Watch
Rocky Mountain Media Watch was founded in 1994 to challenge the news media, particularly local TV news, to provide citizens with better information. Six national and seven local RMMW reports have been the subject of over two hundred newspaper and magazine articles, in the New York Times, Boston Globe, Christian Science Monitorand other leading newspapers, Columbia Journalism Review, The Nation, American Journalism Review, Nieman Reports, Might Magazine, Adbusters, Woman's Day and In These Times magazines. Two hundred radio and TV shows, including Larry King Live, CNN's Talk Back Live, The Crier Report, and MSNBC and 100 lectures, including the National Association of Attorney's General, the Annenberg Washington Program, University of Maryland, University of Colorado, Eastern Illinois University and Columbia University. RMMW staff has written two articles for Television Quarterly and one for the Harvard International Journal of Press/Politics and received a "Media Hero" award from the Institute of Alternative Journalism.
Paul Klite, RMMW's Executive Director, is a former broadcaster, research scientist and physician. Robert Bardwell's Ph.D. is in mathematics and statistics. He has a long history of social activism. Jason Salzman, a former Greenpeace staffer, is author of Making the News, a media activism guide for non-profits.