November 19, 2001

Before And After

What the Morning Shows Had Become

To understand the scope of the change in the morning news agenda, it is useful to understand what the network morning news programs had become.

By June 2001, the morning news shows devoted a significant proportion of their time to selling products. To put it perhaps a little bluntly, they had become, at least for a part of each broadcast, a kind of sophisticated infomercial.

How Morning News Shows Use Their Time
 
Total Airtime (minutes) 120 120 120
Commercials 35 35 35
Local News 9 9 9
Products 16 17 16.5
Promotions 10 5 7.5
   Subtotal 70 66 68
Remaining Time 50 54 52

Excluding commercials and local news inserts, these morning news programs dedicated 34% of their time—or roughly 26 minutes of program—to selling viewers something—a book, a movie, a kitchen or garden gadget, a website, other network programs or a segment later in the show.

Add in the 35 minutes of commercials per program, and more than half of every two-hour show was spent selling viewers something.

If someone watched an hour of morning news, they would get just 25 minutes of non-product related network news, weather and other features.

Since September 11, the morning shows have certainly changed, some more than others. But it is less clear whether that change is in their nature or simply in the subject being covered.

The total number of stories selling some kind of product, for instance, stayed roughly the same from June to October (205 stories to 203 in the periods studied). But more of those products were related to the news.

In June, for instance, the shows were promoting such books as "Diana: Story of a Princess" (ABC), "Behind the Smile," Marie Osmond's story of post-partum depression (CBS), and "Hair! Mankind's Historic Quest to End Baldness" (CBS).

In October, by contrast, the list of books promoted included "Black Hawk Down: A Story of Modern War" about lessons commandos learned in Somalia (CBS), and "Jihad: The Secret War in Afghanistan" about a British soldier's year with the Afghan Mujahideen (NBC).

Some of the books may have been of more questionable value than others. GMA, for instance, featured "The Anti-Terror Checklist," which its publisher describes as a "life-saving guidebook for individuals and families on how to prepare for…terrorism." An Amazon customer, however, described the work as "obviously rushed to market…exploitive…I regret buying it."