Mar 11, 2010

Local television news is rarely local and hardly news

A USC journalism school study of local television news (which can be found here) finds little in the way of local news ever makes it to air. The average half-hour news broadcast spends more time on teasers than it does on business or the local economy. Less than 2 percent of total airtime (minus those teasers) pertains to local government.

Here's part of the summary:
An average half-hour of L.A. local news packed all its local government coverage – including budget, law enforcement, education, layoffs, new ordinances, voting procedures, personnel changes, city and county government actions on health care, transportation and immigration – into 22 seconds.

But crime stories filled 7 times more of the broadcast, averaging 2:50. Sports and weather took the most time: 3:36. Soft news – human interest, oddball stories and miscellaneous fluff – took up the next-largest chunk after crime, averaging 2:26.
Other highlights:
Coverage of business and the economy in Los Angeles averaged 29 seconds. Teasers (“coming up on the Southland’s best news…”) lasted more than four times that amount (2:10).

The time spent on ads (8:25), teasers, and sports and weather takes up nearly half of a typical half-hour of local news. Of the time left for everything else (15:44), almost half (8:17) was made up of stories taking place outside the L.A. media market.

If you add up all the time given to all stories focused on L.A. government, business and economy; all crime-related stories of civic importance (e.g., rewards offered, public corruption, police shootings); all stories about people dealing with local issues like traffic and the environment; all local public health news; and all coverage of the L.A. wildfires and water main breaks (which occurred during the study’s sample), all that news combined took up about 4 minutes of a composite half-hour.
The study, which was done by Martin Kaplan and Matthew Hale of USC's Norman Lear Center, confirms what most local TV news watchers already knew - there's not much there there. As a point of comparison, the study also looked at local news coverage in the Los Angeles Times:
The L.A. Times devoted 10% of its front page stories to local government, compared to 2.5% of TV news lead stories about it.

The paper allocated 7.8% of its news hole to L.A. business and economy, compared to TV’s 2.3%. Six percent of the Times’s front page stories focused on local business and economy, compared to 0.5% TV leads about L.A. business/economy.

TV spent 9 times more of its news hole on soft, odd, and miscellaneous stories, and almost three times more on crime, than the paper. Fourteen percent of the paper’s front page stories were about crime, compared to more than a third of TV’s lead stories.

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