November 19, 2001

Before And After

Morning News

The change in the news agenda is even more dramatic if one looks at what has become an increasingly important segment of network television, morning news.

In June of 2001, network morning news programs had become, in significant part, a way of selling things, often lifestyle products, books, movies, TV shows, cookbooks, products for the home and the like. Excluding commercials and inserts for local news, 33% of the news time on these programs was devoted to selling some product.

When the shows did news, the topics were decidedly soft. All told, celebrity and lifestyle stories made up nearly three-quarters of the morning show segments. Specifically, 25% of the stories were about celebrities. Nearly half (47%) were about lifestyle (fashion, health, sports, cooking, travel).

Just seven percent of the stories on the morning news shows were devoted to what one might call traditional hard news—again government, the military, domestic or foreign affairs.

That has undergone a profound shift after September 11. By late October, celebrity and lifestyle dropped from making up 72% of the stories on to 24%. Celebrity news fell by half (from 25% to 12%), lifestyle dropped even more (from 47% to just 12%).

Topics on the Morning Shows
  PERCENTAGE OF NEWSCAST
Hard News 6.9% 58.1%
Celebrity News 25.3 12.2
Crime/ Law/ Courts 11.5 1.7
Business/ Economy 4.3 2.6
Science and Technology 5.1 13.5
Lifestyle Features 46.9 12
Total 100 100

Traditional hard news increased by more than seven-fold (from 7% to 58%).

News about science and technology nearly tripled, from 5% to 14%. This increase was due, almost entirely, to the morning shows exploring the science behind anthrax and other forms of possible bio-terrorism.

Even some of the news presenting techniques of the past came back. ABC's Good Morning America, for instance, turned to using the "whiparound," in which a team of correspondents from around the country and the world saved time by passing the story to each other, rather than throwing it back to the star anchor after each report to maximize the hosts' time on camera.

Morning Show Differences By Network

Even before September 11, there were measurable differences in the style of the three morning shows. NBC's Today Show did more celebrity stories (30% versus 19% for ABC, 27% for CBS). The ABC and CBS shows did more lifestyle (53% for CBS, 52% for ABC, 36% for NBC).

None did much hard news (8% ABC, 7% NBC, 6% CBS).

After September 11, differences between the shows, at least in the time period studied, became even more pronounced. ABC's Good Morning America emerges as the most serious of the three. It does more hard news (63%) and less celebrity and lifestyle (17%) than the other two. This may reflect, in part, the background of its anchors, Charlie Gibson and Diane Sawyer.

CBS, though a much more serious program than before, still has the softest mix. It does the least hard news (53%) and the most celebrity and lifestyle (30%).

NBC, as reflected in the October data, is in the middle, second in hard news (59%) and second in celebrity/lifestyle (25%).