July 1, 2000

Local TV News Project 1999

More on Local TV News – What is Quality?

Quality Versus Ratings
Two Roads to Success?
How to Make Quality Sell
The Low Road To Ratings
Stations in the Middle
Story Length & Focus Groups
Bottom Lines

What is Quality?

In this second year, the definition of quality remains the one established by our "design team" of local TV news professionals. (See Design Team.) It emphasizes mastering the basics: Newscasts should accurately reflect their entire community, cover a broad range of topics, focus on what is significant, make it locally relevant, balance stories with multiple points of view, and rely on authoritative sources. (See What is a "Good" Newscast?)

We again used the system developed by a separate team of university and professional researchers to rate newscasts on a point scale according to these criteria. (See Who Did the Study and Methodology.) A caveat: To keep the grading objective, a story can score well if the reporter includes all the right elements, even if the presentation is lacking.
Just as in the first year, quality scores were then correlated to the latest Nielsen Media Research household ratings encompassing a three-year period beginning in May 1996 and ending February 1999.

The study continues to probe three major questions: How would one define a "good" newscast? Does content affect ratings? Are there successful quality stations that can serve as industry models? In addition, this year we examined the differences between news at 6 p.m. and 11 p.m., and began to examine trends over time.

This year 19 cities were randomly selected after ensuring population and geographic balance. Eight cities were repeated from the first year, and 11 cities were new.
In some cities, such as New Orleans, we saw wide differences in quality. The best station, WWL, scored nearly double that of the worst station, WGNO. In other cities, such as Minneapolis-St. Paul, we saw signs of a news culture in place. Three of the city's four stations, KARE, KSTP and WCCO, shared similar traits and an emphasis on in-depth coverage. All earned the same above-average grade.
In Miami, a city known for a pulsating style of news once called "the quick and the dead," a new news culture seems to be evolving, less violent and more enterprising but still moving to a rhythm that might be out of place in many cities. Miami was the study's second-best market, after small-market Evansville; none of the four stations scored lower than a solid "B." (See Miami Vice No More.)