Study of TV news takes Copps from worried to “flat out alarmed”


The average amount of time spent on local government during the 30-minute newscasts of eight Los Angeles television stations is 22 seconds, according to a study from the Lear Center at the USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism. And that has FCC Commissioner Michael Copps even more eager to leap into FCC proceedings that the report may tie into.

The study found that commercials take about eight and a half minutes of the half hour, and promos, weather and sports reports leave less than 16 minutes for other matters. Crime and non-local stories take the biggest chunk out of that quarter hour.

“I was worried before the study was released,” said Copps. “Now I’m flat out alarmed. This is not picking on the good folks of L.A. I’ve been in all four corners of the country where this is unfortunately the case. This study should be incorporated into the work being done at the FCC on the Information Needs of Communities in a Digital Era. This is an evidential versus anecdotal perspective of local broadcast news and the results are most troubling. The digital divide continues to separate our lower income, less educated members of society from broadband media, and we simply cannot afford to turn a blind eye to the media that those Americans without broadband are receiving.”

Copps indicated that the FCC is on the case. “I look forward to a comprehensive FCC report dealing with the information needs of our communities to be completed in late summer and proceed to action by year’s end. There’s no time to be wasted.”

Copps concluded, “People are still receiving much of their news over the airwaves as numerous recent studies have shown. Anyone dubious or skeptical of these findings and how they relate to their own community should do one simple thing: Watch your news with a stopwatch and then ask if your needs are being met.”

RBR-TVBR observation: Copps is right about one thing – to make the most of a station, a broadcaster has to be local – that is the critical competitive advantage that other electronic media have a great deal of difficulty mimicking. That said, as consumers of local media, we’ve long since come to realize that a 30 minute local telecast is not the best place to get political coverage – the format just isn’t conducive to really delving into complex municipal issues.

Responsible citizens find the information they need elsewhere.

It is a sad commentary that so many citizens are too busy or worse, too apathetic to stay on top of the issues, but that seems to be the unfortunate reality. You can certainly make the case that local television stations should at the very least find a way to increase the admittedly shoddy 22 seconds detailed in the Lear report and find a way to get two or three minutes on local government topics on an average newscast.

To say the least, it will be interesting to see how the Quadrennial Review and the localism proceedings play out. But the First Amendment limits what the FCC or any other branch of government can do in this area, and whatever they do will not even begin to address the apathy problem.

But get ready – it looks like this issue is going to generate a lot of heat as 2010 spools out.