Last updated: February 21, 2008 - 9:58am
NEW RESEARCH CONCLUDES THAT THE SENSATIONALISM SWEEPING LOCAL NEWS IS BAD FOR RATINGS
[SOURCE: The Boston Globe, AUTHOR: Drake Bennett]
The past two decades have seen a marked shift in local television news across the country, away from in-depth coverage and toward speed and spectacle. Broadcast news, envisioned in the early years of television as a means of enriching civic life, has - according to politicians, media watchdog groups, and many TV journalists themselves - degenerated into lowest-common-denominator entertainment. Yet many who work in the industry have grimly accepted this: The market has spoken. But a study published earlier this year - the most exhaustive ever conducted of local television news - suggests that the industry has severely underestimated its audience. In an unprecedented survey, a team of researchers under the auspices of the Project for Excellence in Journalism studied the minute-by-minute Nielsen ratings for newscasts from 154 local television stations over five years, more than 33,000 news stories in all. What they found is that quality sells. Sensationalism, the study suggests, does bring good ratings. But well-done, substantive TV news proves just as popular -- and often earns even better ratings. Viewers, the study found, are perfectly willing to watch stories on education policy or tax debates - in many cases they'll tune in to those stories but flip away from a segment on a celebrity divorce or a deadly highway pileup. And they'll consistently reward in-depth reporting with higher ratings than more cursory stories, no matter what the topic. The findings suggest that the shift to violence and voyeurism has left everyone worse off.
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