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Prof. Jeff McCall '76 Discusses State of Local TV News on Ohio Radio Station

September 11, 2004

September 11, 2004, Greencastle, Ind. - A recent study that shows viewership of local television news has suffered steep declines over the past decade, and that people who do watch local news are chiefly interested in the weather forecast, Audio Link [Download Audio: "Other Alternatives" - 147kb] "should be very disturbing" to TV managers, Jeffrey McCall says. McCall, professor of communication at DePauw University, discussed the report on Toledo, Ohio news-talk radio station WSPD. He points out that with local weather available via the Internet and cable's Weather Channel, "as more viewers choose to get their weather information anywhere else, there's going to be even less reason for them to tune in to local TV."

In a recent op-ed column carried by a number of newspapers across America (read more here), Dr. McCall wrote, "TV news "has been redefined from the relevant and important to the weird and bizarre... 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."

McCall told WSPD host Bob Frantz, Audio Link [Download Audio: "Superfluous Coverage" - 651kb] "Those stories -- even though they might be live and late-breaking and may include sensationalistic video -- most of the stories don't affect people very much. Your average house fire affects the people who live in that house, unfortunately, and it affects the firemen who have to respond to it, and maybe the neighbors on that street. But even in a community like Toledo most of your several hundred thousand residents are not affected at all by one house fire or garage fire on the other side of town. But yet, that'll be the focus of the late night news and the news the next morning, and they'll show you 45 or fifty seconds of video of a fire burning that doesn't affect anybody."

How can television news reclaim its dwindling audience? Audio Link [Download Audio: "Raising the Conversation" - 1016kb] "I think it needs to raise the level of discussion," Professor McCall, a 1976 graduate of DePauw, told the radio station. "It's been said that news is a conversation of democracy, and I think we need to raise the level of that conversation and cover stories that we in the academic world would call 'high impact' -- those stories that affect a lot folks. Those could be stories on industrial development, local commerce, education in your area as opposed to national trends, legislative. For example, even in Indianapolis the local news stations very seldom have reports from the Statehouse even while the legislature is in session ... and those things affect a lot of folks. But the problem is, a lot of people look at those stories and their eyes glass over. [The challenge for] professional journalists is to make the important stories interesting, and that's not easy to do ... [but] it has to be done or your audience is going to continue to drift and, worst of all, your audience is ill-served."

Visit the WSPD online by clicking here.

In May, Jeff McCall appeared on FOX News' O'Reilly Factor. Read more, and access video clips of the show, here.

Source: WSPD/Toledo, Oh.

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