blogenlust
2.15.2005

Local News


I'm not a big fan of local media. I find it dangerously lacking in substance and context, and think it is a major reason why (generally) people don't seem to a) care what is going on in the world, and b) know what is going on in the world. In my opinion, local news (and certainly cable news, too) is a major reason why a large percentage of this country thinks Iraq had something to do with 9/11 and had weapons of mass destruction. A recent study from Broadcasting and Cable (via Cursor) seems to validate my concerns:
Although many considered the November presidential election a referendum on Iraq, that would have been hard to tell by the time devoted to the war in local TV newscasts. Of 44 network affiliate evening newscasts studied in 11 markets, stations averaged 25 seconds of Iraq war coverage per newscast. The only story given less coverage was foreign policy, at 13 seconds. The presidential election got almost five times that coverage at two minutes, though local races barely beat it out at 30 seconds. Iraq was also beaten out by sports, weather, health, crime, injury, economy, “other,” and even bumpers, teases and intro music. [...] According to the report, the typical pre-election newscast broke down this way: * Ads: 8 minutes * Sports/weather: 6 minutes * Elections: 3 minutes, 11 seconds * Crime: 2 minutes, 34 seconds * Local interest : 1 minute, 56 seconds * Teasers, intros: 1 minute, 43 seconds * Health: 1 minute, 22 seconds * Other: 1 minute, 12 seconds * Injury: 55 seconds * Business/economy: 47 seconds * Iraq: 25 seconds * Foreign policy: 13 seconds
I understand that local news is by definition local, but for many people it is the only news they watch. I think the problem stems from the fact that local news coverage only fills a half-hour time spot. Twenty-two minutes is not enough to offer comprehensive coverage of the day's events--even if it is local. Not to pick on my home state, but I would be curious to see the breakdown of Milwaukee's local news. During football season, which in Wisconsin is about 300 days of the year, Packer coverage takes a huge chunk of the twenty-two minutes of news. And during the real football season, the local news is often followed by another half hour of Packer coverage. Packer's Extra, it's called. Now, to a certain extent, stations have the right to present what it knows its audience wants to watch. At the same time, though, these stations--as news stations--have certain responsibilities to maintain. It's definitely a balancing act, and I think a very good argument can be made that local news stations are not living up to their responsibility to cover what their audiences need to know versus what they want to know. One last thing: I suspect some people might argue that news from Iraq isn't local, and therefore doesn't have to be addressed on the local news. I would respond that Iraq is very much a local issue, not just because local men and women are dying and fighting in the war, but also because of the huge financial cost incurred by this war, and paid by U.S. taxpayers. We ought to have a little more oversight as to how our money is being spent.