Initial findings of an analysis of the content of local newscasts in the Los Angeles market found that crime stories dominate the lead slot during newscasts while reports on local Los Angeles government happenings lead just 2.5 percent of the time.
The ongoing analysis, being conducted by researchers from the University of Southern California Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism’s Norman Lear Center and the Department of Public and Healthcare Administration at Seton Hall University in South Orange, NJ, is looking at newscasts from eight area stations, including KABC, KCAL, KCBS, KNBC, KTLA, KTTV, KCOP and KMEX. The findings, released in the report “Local TV News In the Los Angeles Media Market: Are Stations Serving the Public Interest?,” are based on an examination of the stations’ newscasts during 14 randomly selected days between Aug. 1 and Sept. 30, 2009, during which 980 half hours with 11,253 news stories were analyzed.
In a typical half-hour newscast, the stations devoted 8:25 to ads, 8:17 to local stories, 7:27 to non-local stories, 3:36 to sports and weather and 2:10 to teasers. According to the researchers, 14 percent of all lead stories dealt with common crime, 8 percent with celebrity crime, 7 percent with non-local crime and 3 percent to other crime. Taken together, crime reports accounted for one out of three lead stories. About half of the crime stories dealt with murder, robbery, assault, kidnapping, property crime, traffic crime and other common crime, the report says.
Besides crime, other lead story topics included sports, traffic and the wildfires, which were raging during the sample period, local people and local issues. Stories about the budget crisis confronting the city and the state led one out of 100 times.
Beyond lead stories, the research reveals that 13.2 percent of coverage was spent on six categories of local stories, including crime-related stories of civic importance, people dealing with local issues, Los Angeles business and economy, Los Angeles government, citizen-related health issues, wildfires and water main breaks.
Responding to the findings of the content analysis, FCC Commissioner Michael Copps issued a public statement saying he is “flat out alarmed” by the decline of local news revealed by the study.