Marginal fall in telecast of news in US local TV Channels in 2013, shows study

NEW DELHI: Even as television news channels in India are showing a rise, the actual amount of news content is dropping. A study shows that the average amount of news on local television in the US dropped slightly in 2013 from the year before - down 6 minutes after a 6 minute drop a year ago. 


The number of TV stations producing local news actually went up by two this year to 719 stations. However weakly, that reverses an eight year trend of fewer newsrooms. Those 719 TV stations run news on those and another 307 stations; a record total of 1,026 stations running local news.


But the latest Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA)/Hofstra University Annual Survey found the median remained at 5 hours per weekday, and both average and median remained the same for both Saturday and Sunday. The RTDNA/Hofstra University Survey was conducted in the fourth quarter of 2013 among all 1,659 operating, non-satellite television stations. Valid responses came from 1,300 television stations (78.4 per cent). Some data sets (for example, the number of TV stations originating local news, getting it from others and women TV news directors) are based on a complete census and are not projected from a smaller sample.  

Generally, the bigger the market and the bigger the news staff, the more news a station is likely to run, according to Bob Papper who is emeritus distinguished professor of journalism at Hofstra University and has worked extensively in radio and TV news. This research was supported by the Lawrence Herbert School of Communication at Hofstra University and the RTDNA.

Overall, the numbers are almost identical to a year earlier. The overall average slid by 0.1 per weekday (6 minutes), although the median remained exactly the same. So did both Saturday and Sunday. The biggest markets cut back slightly; the middle markets, 26 to 150, rose slightly or stayed the same; the smallest markets, 151+, fell.  Fox affiliates and PBS affiliates were most likely to cut back.

A clear trend is developing, said Pepper who has conducted this study for the twentieth year. Last year, the percentage increasing news dropped by four points from the year before.  This year, the drop is almost five points. That downward trend is most pronounced in both the largest and smallest markets, according to a report on the website of the National Association of Broadcasters. 

There was a 10 point drop, overall, in the percentage of stations adding a newscast in the last year -- which follows on the heels of a 6 point drop the year before. The drop was most pronounced in top 25 markets, which fell by 23 points from the year before. Those adding newscasts spread them surprisingly evenly across several time periods. Late news additions (which include 9 pm in Central and Mountain time) led the way, with a number of those newscasts being added to stations other than the news department's own air. Right behind that was Saturday and/or Sunday morning. Almost at the same level were various weekday morning newscasts, especially 4:30 am, and early evening newscasts, especially at 5 pm.


The percentage of stations cutting a newscast dropped by half from a year ago.  What few cuts that were made were scattered across all day parts.


Stations neither adding nor cutting a newscast rose by 11 points from 2012 -- and 24 points in the top 25 markets.


The amount of news planned has turned into a pretty reasonable predictor of future behavior.  A year ago, the overall numbers weren't much different from the year before that, but I noted two key differences.  First, "other commercial" stations were much more likely to say they expected to increase news, and top 25 market news directors were a lot less likely to expect the amount of news would increase.  Both of those things took place between last year and this.

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