No Good News for Local News

Local TV news remains largely unchanged despite the war on terrorism, financial scandals and a lingering recession, says the latest report from the Project for Excellence in Journalism.

And news professionals are a grumpy lot, too, a PEJ study found. A survey of 103 news directors found half believing that local news was headed in the wrong direction; only a third found it headed in the right direction.

Most of that pessimism was attributed to budget cuts, which have led to heavier workloads, lower salaries, no raises, job insecurity and lower morale. The mail survey sent to a random sample of 233 local news directors.

As for the news itself, crime coverage, a frequent target of criticism from the Project, "actually increased last year. Reporting of national defense went up, while coverage of everything else—even the economy—shrank."

Business news comprised only 7% of the stories aired on 53 English-language stations in the 17 markets studied, despite economic scandals—"the lowest level ever in the five-year study."

Project researchers reviewed tapes made during a non-sweeps week in March, and a week in May sweeps.

The Project said much of local TV's current approach amounts to "the road to irrelevance." With an eye on profit, "what gets on the air is demonstrably thinner. The average local TV reporter is now asked to produce roughly two stories a day, the highest ever in our five years of research, even though data show such demands drive viewers away. And with the government moving to allow even greater concentration of ownership, what's thin is likely to get thinner."