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TV News Industry Clearly "In Decline" and Requires "Reinvention," Opines Prof. Jeff McCall '76

April 14, 2013

In 2013, "television remains the primary source of news for most citizens -- but for how long?," asks Jeffrey M. McCall in an Indianapolis Star op-ed. The professor of communication at DePauw University dissects the results of the new "State of the News Media" report by the Pew Research Center, which McCall says suggests broadcast news executives must turn to "reinvention if they expect television to remain the primary source."

The professor says the report "shows a television news industry in decline. News viewership was down across television in 2012, an odd result for an election year. Network early evening newscasts have lost half of their audiences in 25 years, and the average viewer is aging. Pew reports that local news lost 6 percent of its audience in the last year, and ad revenues declined, even with all of the political ads. Forty percent of local news is now made up of weather, traffic and sports, and as Pew reports, these areas 'are ripe for replacement by any number of Web- and mobile-based outlets.' Story lengths continue to drop, with only 20 percent of all stories now lasting more than a minute. Pew suggests this represents a lack of reporting depth. Only 3 percent of the local news hole goes to stories about government or politics, but 17 percent goes to crime stories and 13 percent to accidents and bizarre stories."

Dr. McCall continues, "In cable news, live coverage of stories has declined, and more of each news hour consists of interviews. Opinion and commentary dominate cable news, even at the formerly proud CNN. About half of each CNN and Fox News hour is made up of commentary, and the figure is 85 percent at MSNBC. Live event coverage has dropped by half, and international news has also declined."

Economic pressures are pushing news outlets toward mediocrity, the professor observes. "Stopping the ratings decline in television news will be challenging. Television has always had trouble injecting journalistic depth into a medium that viewers consider to be largely entertainment. It is difficult to make high-impact news stories important and visually interesting to viewers with limited attention spans. It doesn’t help, however, when television news panders to viewers with daily stories about cute animals, bizarre YouTube videos and man-on-the-street interviews with people who don’t know anything. That’s cheap to produce, but adds nothing to serious community dialogue."

McCall, who authored the book Viewer Discretion Advised: Taking Control of Mass Media Influences, states, "The most disturbing statistic from the Pew study is that 31 percent of Americans now report they have 'stopped tuning to a news outlet because it no longer provides them with the news they were accustomed to getting.' Also of concern is that only 28 percent of adults younger than 30 years old are now regular TV news viewers. Americans abandoning traditional news outlets just can’t get the information they need from Twitter and Facebook."

The column concludes, "If television news is to maintain relevance, the main fix must come from corporate leaders who will have to cut their profit margins to allow reporters to focus on news of substance. The broadcast news industry has plenty of talented journalists who would love to report with more depth, if the time and resources were available."

Read the complete essay at College News.org.

A member of the DePauw faculty since 1985 and a 1976 graduate of the University, Jeff McCall is frequently called upon to discuss media matters.  On Friday night he made his twelfth appearance on TV's O'Reilly Factor.  McCall was quoted in the April 6 Los Angeles Times and the March 10 New York Times.

Source: Indianapolis Star

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