Why the special concern over the news? • The press is supposed to provide vital information for democracies • Information on events • Debate over alternative policies • Revelations of government corruption • Policy choices and personalities of candidates for office • Does the press in America perform these functions?
What is required for the press to perform its democratic functions? • The press must have access to the necessary information • Government secrecy • The press must present the information in an effective manner • The public must attend to press coverage of politics • The public must learn the information
Press presentation of content • What counts as news? • Conflict • Oddity • Events (recent time frame) • “Human interest” • Personalities • Social importance
Program content • What topics are covered? • How are the stories constructed? • Is there a slant? • What structural features are used?
Topics • What is news about? • Democratic theory states that it should be about socially and politically important issues and events—especially those implicated in self-governance. • Upcoming legislation • Candidate policies and personalities • Famine • War • Social protest
Topics • Economic theory says it should be about whatever will draw an audience • US news organizations are commercial enterprises, not public utilities • News organizations compete with each other and with media entertainment for advertising revenue, subscription fees, content sales, etc. • The general belief is that ‘entertainment values’ in the news will increase audience size • Sensationalism
Recent findings • Pew Research Center for the People and the Press • Thomas Patterson, professor Harvard
What is the content of most news? • Events rather than trends • Details rather than context • Quotes from officials, witnesses • Preferably conflict • Compelling visuals • Stereotypic scenes • Police walking handcuffed suspect to car, suspect hides his face
Preferred topics • Public policy, especially where conflict exists • Actions of famous people • especially the president • Sex • Violence • Crime • Corruption • Catastrophe
2006 Content analysis • “Newspaper readers on balance learn about the widest range of topics and get the deepest sourcing and the most angles on the news among consumers of all media studied except . . . the Internet, (which) still relies for the heart of its content on print journalism.”
“Most of the local news we found in newspapers was absent from local television. • The local metro dailies remain committed to offering a complete menu of news — national and international as well as local.”
Local News in Print versus on TV • In local metro dailies, citizens were far more likely to learn about things like taxes, education, zoning commissions and the activities of government than they would in most other media. In the metro papers in Houston, Milwaukee and Bend, a third of the space was taken up by matters relating to government or domestic issues such as education.
On local TV in those cities on the same day, by comparison, only 23% of the space was filled with those topics, and often they commanded only brief anchor reads read from wire stories — some of them from the local newspaper.
In the Houston Chronicle, for instance, readers of the front and local sections would have learned about: • a major plan to reform two failing local high schools • machinations in the Texas Senate over taxes • a new plan in the legislature to revamp college admissions • the arrival in Texas of a controversial border vigilante group from Arizona • problems with university graduation rates • the killing of a Texas House bill to aid the poor • a drop in the governor’s approval rating
Not one of those stories earned a package on any of the city’s three main TV stations’ morning, evening or late newscasts. The state tax bill and high school reform plan were mentioned in brief tell stories in some newscasts. The others were completely absent.
The reporting was straightforward and mostly strictly factual, with little of the journalist’s opinion thrown in. • As local newsrooms are stretched thinner by producing more hours, anchor people increasingly are these newscasts. Most stories were anchor “voice-overs” supplemented with taped sound and visuals, but without correspondents. There was surprisingly little in the way of live or packaged reports from correspondents — far less than on the networks.
Morning news is the newest form and the one still evolving, but as a rule, traffic and weather dominate it.
On the 6:00 a.m. news on Houston ’s KHOU, for example, the entire first news segment, sandwiched between two traffic and weather reports, was eight crime or accident reports. The list: • Headline tease Banter Weather Banter Traffic Metrorail accident Train accident follow-up Man and baby in stolen car Charges against Texas criminal Apartment shootingMan killed in stolen car Teenager found dead Pastor’s car bursts into flames Weather Traffic • All that came in the first 13 minutes of the program.
Local TV news • “Viewers got a lot of local weather, traffic and crime. As for other news of the day — local or national — usually just three or four items received anything more than a brief anchor report with taped sound. That was true across markets. • On the other hand, local TV news is more likely than other media we studied to try to portray regular people from the community and how they feel about things, rather than just officials.”
News values • Professional ‘expertise’ • Impact of public demand? • Sensationalism • Market for sex, violence, tragedy, scandal? • Human interest • Personalization • Social importance • Professional values
Weekly newspaper readership by age Source: Scarborough Research survey data
So do people learn from the news? • Yes . . . somewhat.