WASHINGTON (CNS) — Are you watching television news more and enjoying it less?
Join the club.
Stations are expanding the amount of local news programming they carry. It’s especially evident at two times of the day: the morning news and the afternoon rush-hour news.
In the morning, what passed for local news might have been that five-minute cutaway from the networks’ morning news programs. It was often a slice-and-diced rehash of the previous day’s late-night newscast.
Then affiliates started piggybacking their own news program prior to the start of the networks’ show. Thirty minutes eventually became one hour; one hour became two hours. Now there seems to be a race to see how early in the day the news can start so some stations can claim the prize of their market’s first newscast of the day.
In the afternoons, what had once been a 30-minute newscast before the evening news report grew to an hour, then an hour and a half, then two hours.
Fox network affiliates, without having to air a morning network news program, will run four hours or more of news. Fox’s primetime programming ends an hour earlier than ABC, CBS and NBC, allowing them not only to get a head start on the late local news, but to do 90 minutes of late news. Some NBC affiliates have moved their midday news program to start after the fourth hour of “Today.”
Local stations have invested a lot of money in their newsrooms, and airing so much news is one way to amortize the cost, because they then don’t have to buy as much syndicated programming and share the ad revenue. It is almost as if every possible minute not usurped by network programming now becomes the province of local news.
For the 24-hour cable news outlets, it’s distressing to see the same stories repeated and reheated every half-hour. It’s a big world out there, but the cable news giants seem to ignore it.
Local stations also are cutting corners. In some markets duopolies exist. And there have been instances where the same anchors essentially repeat for one station at 11 p.m. the same newscast they did for the other duopoly station at 10 p.m. The same holds true for reporters who sign off on their reports just a little bit differently, according to the protocol for each station.
The constant churn to feed the gaping maw of the local news beast leads to stupid mistakes. I pity the so-called “entertainment editor” for WJRT in Flint, Mich., who did a voiceover report on the weekend’s new movie releases. Instead of saying the correct title “Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days,” she called it “Dog Says.” No one at the station apparently caught the error, including the reporter. With a two-hour Saturday morning newscast to fill, it aired twice.
It’s examples like this that could be behind the continued erosion of Americans’ confidence in TV news.
An annual Gallup poll showed only 21 percent of adults had either “a great deal” or “quite of lot” of confidence in TV news. That’s a drop of six percentage points from 27 percent last year. The first time Gallup polled on this issue in 1993, the number was 46 percent — not a majority, but a healthy enough number upon which to build.
Instead, the numbers keep sliding backward. In fact, when ranking confidence on a list of U.S. institutions, TV news finishes 11th — behind newspapers.
This Gallup poll was conducted June 7-10 — a few weeks before both CNN and Fox News Channel goofed in their initial reports of the Supreme Court’s decision on the Affordable Care Act, saying the law had been thrown out.
And now ABC announced that its long-esteemed late-night newscast, “Nightline,” will move to 12:35 a.m. Eastern time, switching places with “Jimmy Kimmel Live.” How confidence-inspiring is that?
Pattison is media editor for Catholic News Service.
When you keep your eye on TV, what do you see? What are your likes or dislikes? What are your concerns and criticisms? Be as general or as specific as you wish. Send your comments to: Mark Pattison, Media Editor, Catholic News Service, 3211 Fourth St. NE, Washington, DC 20017.