October 1, 2000

Local TV News Project 2000

What Is a "Good" Newscast?

The project assembled a "design team" of local TV news professionals to define what makes a "good" newscast. Its members answered questionnaires, spent a day in New Orleans to refine their work and were consulted on all major decisions along the way. Then, a group of researchers and scholars designed a set of measures to analyze newscasts according to the design team's definitions. Here is the synthesis of what makes a good newscast and how it was measured.

Topic Range

Reflecting the community in its totality was the preeminent concern. No topic should be considered off limits. The problem is what local TV "doesn't cover." So one yardstick is a ratio of the topics covered in a newscast divided by the number of stories. The greater the range of topics, the better the index.

Story Focus

Newscasts should be significant and informative – as well as interesting. Topic mattered less than treatment. Thus, the study measured the focus of each story. Was it a larger issue or trend that affected a lot of people? Was it public malfeasance? Was it a major unusual event? Or was it an everyday incident, an everyday crime, human interest, celebrity/scandal or popular culture.

Enterprise Level

Being gutsy, providing depth and context, showing initiative, and demonstrating enterprise were also prime values. This variable measured how much effort went into a story. Was it a station-initiated investigation, an interview, or a series? Was the station responding to spontaneous or pre-arranged events? Or was the story simply taken from a wire or a feed from another source, or was it based on rumors or gossip? The more enterprise, the higher the score.

Number of Sources

Being accurate, credible, fair, balanced and honest were important. As a first step, this measurement simply counted how many sources there were in a story, or whether any sourcing was even required.

Viewpoints

As a second way of measuring balance, fairness and credibility, this index noted whether the story had multiple points of view (no one view accounted for 75% of the story), made only a passing reference to a second point of view, or contained only one point of view. Stories presented as undisputed (a fire, the weather) were noted separately.

Source Expertise

Newscasts should be authoritative to be credible. A good yardstick is the quality of one's sources. This variable noted whether the source on the given topic was a credentialed expert, impartial data, the major actor in the story, a person on the street, an unnamed source, or finally whether no source was cited.

Local Relevance

Because reflecting the community and being relevant stood out with accuracy and fairness as primary values, this variable measured the local connection. Did the story affect citizens in the whole area, important institutions in the area, major demographic or geographic groups in the area, smaller subgroups? Or was it interesting but with no direct connection to the community? The study also coded stories, though for minimal points, for presentation. Was the story understandable or not. The study, finally, also noted whether or not stories were sensational, which was defined as replaying video or graphics beyond the point that added new information. The design team did not think all stories should be alike. A story about big ideas might get more points than one about a commonplace event, but any story done well scored high. Stations that covered a lot of topics well scored the highest. What didn't win points was notable. Topic was considered neutral. A crime story might score as high as a science piece. Stories earned no points for length. Production techniques were considered just tools and not rated. The study avoided rating subjective qualities such as tone or negativity.