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Viewers Fed Up With "Dumbed-Down" TV Newscasts, Writes Prof. Jeff McCall '76

August 4, 2012

"A recent Gallup survey reports Americans are increasingly frustrated with the quality of television news," writes Jeff McCall, professor of communication at DePauw University, in the Indianapolis Star. "Only 21 percent of Americans now express 'a great deal' of confidence in television news. That is the lowest score ever, dropping from the 46 percent level when Gallup started asking this question in 1993. Declines in confidence are found across all age groups and political affiliations. Given the recent performance of TV news, further deterioration in confidence is inevitable."

Dr. McCall's op-ed column continues, "ABC's Brian Ross jumped to conclusions and suggested a link between the Aurora movie shooter and the tea party. CNN and Fox News Channel both rushed to air with incorrect information about the Supreme Court's health-care ruling. NBC's unprofessional editing of the George Zimmerman 911 audio led to a false impression. Then NBC made misleading edits of a Mitt Romney campaign speech that seemed to make the GOP nominee appear shocked by the technology at convenience stores. These are not accidents. They are egregious errors in judgment that could be avoided if the professional culture wereIndy Star Rolled Upmore committed to accuracy and fairness, and less preoccupied with being first, showing off and sensationalizing the news."

According to the professor and author of the book, Viewer Discretion Advised: Taking Contropl of Mass Media Influences, "Television is still the source from which most citizens get their news. A free press was established to provide the information needs of a democracy. Television news, as the citizenry's prime surrogate, assumes a heavy responsibility. The nation needs and deserves a television news industry that enlightens and empowers citizens. What we get, however, is disappointment after disappointment. We get shallow, boxing-match coverage of political campaigns. We get a dumbed-down lineup that focuses more on Katie Holmes than on the economy or health care. We get morning shows that start each hour with headlines that include words such as 'dramatic,' 'shocking' and 'exclusive.' What we need is a news agenda of importance and relevance."

McCall points to the coverage of the July 20 shootings at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, as "television's preoccupation with the dramatic and bizarre. People need to know what happened in Aurora, of course, but the hyped, extensive coverage is out of proportion with the lack of coverage of other lost lives. The escalating murder count in Chicago has received much less focus than Aurora. More than 175 U.S. soldiers have died in Afghanistan this year, but the networks seem uninterested."

The professor points to a survey that shows more Americans are turning to YouTube as a source for news, a troubling sign, in his view. McCall concludes, "In a complex world, Americans need and deserve a television news product of 'reason and humanity.' "

Access the complete essay at College News.org.

A 1976 graduate of DePauw, Jeffrey M. McCall is regularly cited in articles on media matters. Last weekend he spoke to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution about the resignation of CNN's worldwide president and recently authored a newspaper op-ed on U.S. Supreme Court rulings.

Source: Indianapolis Star

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