Network TV Content, A Day in the Life
2006 Annual Report
The architecture of network TV news is a holdover from another time, an age when news consumption was something that occurred only at home — at breakfast and after work.
The way the news broke on May 11 revealed how network journalists work within that structure.
The most heavily covered story of the day, a private plane in Washington, D.C.’s “No Fly” zone, happened at noon, after the morning news shows were off the air and six and half hours before the evening newscasts.
Violence in Iraq , another of the major stories, had happened overnight. A third, an arrest in an Illinois double murder, was announced before that.
Would the evening news skip some of those stories because they were old? Or delve more deeply into them because there was more time for reporting? In the 21 st century, is time an enemy of good journalism or an ally?
A close examination of one Day in the Life of the News found:
In the end, citizens would get in the 30 minutes of the three nightly commercial newscasts roughly as great a range of topics as they would from cable over four hours — and the programs averaged just 10 stories each. Yet the stories seem so attenuated on these nightly newscasts that it is less clear how much viewers retain, and fewer angles on the stories are explored than in the morning.
In the first two years of this report, we examined network news by looking at a randomly constructed month of programming. That allowed us to look at the broad contours of the network news — how many stories were on different topics, what was the general nature of the reporting, etc.
We found that morning news, the economic powerhouses at NBC and ABC, are interview-based programs, with a “softer” news agenda and stories with a more limited range of sources and viewpoints than many other media. Evening news, which still commands the biggest audience at any given moment, has a more “hard news” agenda. The reporting is generally deeper, and the stories are still told through taped, edited “packages” reported by correspondents, where the facts are double-checked and the pictures and words carefully matched.
This year, we examined one day, May 11, in detail. For network news, that meant closely studying what appeared in the first hour of the three morning shows, and in the evening scrutinizing the three commercial network evening newscasts and PBS’s “NewsHour with Jim Lehrer.” We studied the day two ways — quantitatively, breaking it down by the numbers, and qualitatively, watching the stories and forming more specific impressions based on individual stories. First, the numbers.