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02.24.2003
Originally featured on BroadcastEngineering.com
Does corporate ownership affect the quality of local journalism?



A new study shows that smaller market stations, such as KNOP-DT in North Platte, Neb., tend to produce higher quality newscasts than stations owned by larger companies—by a significant margin.

When it comes to the quality of local TV news, a new study finds that smaller station owners often outperform larger corporate owners. The Project for Excellence in Journalism (PEJ) conducted the study as part of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in New York City.

Here are some findings of a just-released five-year study:

  • Smaller stations overall tend to produce higher quality newscasts than stations owned by larger companies — by a significant margin.

  • Network affiliated stations tend to produce higher quality newscasts than network owned and operated stations — also by a large margin.

  • Stations with cross-ownership — those in which the parent company also owns a newspaper in the same market — tend to produce higher quality newscasts.

The study also found that stations owned by big companies were capable of high quality. However, for reasons the study could not determine, these stations didn't tend to produce high quality when most viewers were watching.

Ownership type, the study found, made no apparent difference in terms of the diversity of people depicted in the news. Ownership type also made little difference when it came to the range of topics a station covered. In general, there is striking uniformity across the country in what local television stations define as news.

Data from the study strongly suggests regulatory changes that encourage heavy concentration of ownership in local television by a few large corporations will erode the quality of news Americans receive.

The study, executed in collaboration with Princeton Survey Research Associates, was funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts. The analysis included 172 stations and roughly 23,000 stories over a five-year period.

To read or download the complete report, go to: www.journalism.org.

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