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Report-card time

Local TV news, a study says, "is driving Americans away from what was long the most popular and trusted source of information in the country."

Year Three of the Project for Excellence in Journalism's look at local TV news concluded that the business is cutting back on "enterprise, localism, breadth, innovation and sourcing" to maintain "profit margins of an earlier era."

The project, affiliated with Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism and funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts, ranked 50 stations in 15 cities according to topic range, enterprise, expertise of sources and viewpoints, and local relevance.

Grading was tough. KTVK(TV) Phoenix, KGUN(TV) Tucson, WXIA-TV Atlanta, KCBS-TV Los Angeles and KTVU(TV) San Francisco got A's. But KNXV-TV Phoenix KTLA(TV) Los Angeles and WBRC-TV Birmingham, Ala., got F's.

KTVU(TV) news chief Andrew Finlayson credited his staff's quality and stability-and support from GM Kevin O'Brien.

Although Carol Marin's newscast on WBBM-TV Chicago was meant to be a model for serious journalism before it was canceled earlier this month, it received only a low B. The criticism: "Rather than provide a lot of news in some depth. WBBM-TV gave viewers a great deal about a few things and gave short shrift to almost everything else."

Dissing KNXV-TV with an F grade, the study chided: "Lots of stories, no depth." News Director Bob Morford responded: "I reject the idea completely that some ivory-tower journalist can create ... a set of criteria that all stations in all markets at all times must live up to. ''Dennis Leonard, WBRC-TV general manager, lamented that the study uses the same criteria for morning and evening newscasts with different goals.

KTLA(TV) longtime anchor Hal Fishman called the criteria "faulty, fallacious and superficial." News Director Jeff Wald agreed. "Some carpetbagger comes in for two weeks and makes judgments and tries to put his values on what Los Angeles needs. I've been in this business for 31 years, most of it in L.A."