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"Time to Reinvent" Local TV News, Prof. Jeff McCall '76 Writes in Op-Ed

August 28, 2004

August 28, 2004, Greencastle, Ind. - "Here is some '"late breaking!', 'this just in!', 'exclusive!', 'look at this!' news for local television news managers around the country: It is time to reinvent your industry. Recent studies demonstrate that local TV news is in a state of decline, both in terms of viewership and in terms of relevance," writes Jeffrey M. McCall, professor of communication at DePauw University, in an op-ed published today in Ohio's Toledo Blade as well as the Indianapolis Star. "While things aren't yet as crazy as depicted in the movie Anchorman, the news about TV news must concern newsroom executives."

Dr. McCall, a 1976 graduate of DePauw, cites a recent study that shows viewership of local television news has suffered steep declines over the past decade. "Only 25 percent of the public now says it believes all or most of what they see on local TV news, down 9 percent from just six years ago," he notes. "Eighty percent of respondents are critical of TV news for its undue profit motives and desire to report a story first. Six in 10 viewers believe TV stations avoid stories that are too complex. Seventy-seven percent of viewers think TV stations chase sensational or easily promoted stories even when the news value is minimal, up from 56 percent just six years ago."

TV news "has been redefined from the relevant and important to the weird and bizarre," the professor opines. Among his observations: "A police chase, tornado, or wildfire caught on video from anywhere in the country will be on your local news, whether it has anything to do with your area or not. Robberies, murders, and traffic wrecks are routinely covered, but seldom impact anyone other than those immediately involved. Network-affiliated stations broadcast 'news' related to prime time network programs with features about Survivor or Friends. Stories about animals are staples of TV news. They may be cute, but they don't affect anyone. The current formulaic approach to TV news frequently shows reporters doing 'live' reports from locations where the news event was finished hours before."

Jeff McCall,fall-leaves.jpg a frequently quoted observer of media matters who appeared on FOX News' O'Reilly Factor in May (read more here), observes, "Television news serves a normalizing function for society. When television establishes an agenda of the sensational balanced with the fluff, viewers absorb the notion that this material must, indeed, be the news they need. This leaves the public under-informed about the many socio-political, educational, and economic issues that do directly affect them."

However, the professor says, few viewers demand a better product, and as long as that is the case, they won't get it. He writes, "viewers who would never allow themselves to get stiffed with a defective item bought at the store will sit and watch TV news that doesn't meet their needs and never call the station to object ... In a recent TV industry magazine article, a San Francisco news director, Dan Rosenheim, said that viewers distrust broadcasters because 'we never explain why we make the decisions we do, and we are rarely called to account for them.' Given the current audience drift and research results, now is the time to begin explaining Newspapers 011while there are still viewers around to hear it."

Read the complete column at the Blade's Web site by clicking here. Access the essay in the Star here.

Source: Toledo Blade/Indianapolis Star

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