Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Proof that Cable news is off base.

I have watched the decline of cable news programming recently and despaired. I thought there was honestly no helping the decline, because I assumed that people who watched cable news are simply interested in the gossipy tabloid type pablum that so dominates cable news programming. My assumption was that providing real news for long periods of time would be a money losing effort, as eyeballs were peeled away to gape at the soap opera offered by most cable news programs these days.

This was a sad (and perhaps mistaken) realization for me. The money talks argument is hard to overcome when what you are discussing boils down to the cable broadcaster trying to make a buck. If the sheople want tabloid on cable news then that is what the cable news will give them right?

It turns out this may not be a simple as it seems. Check out this article by Journalism.org. They show the subjects being covered by various news outlets during the week of Feb. 18-23. The results are eye opening to say the least.

First, let me copy and paste the explanation for the statistics used to create the article:
PEJ’s News Coverage Index is a study of the news agenda of 48 different outlets from five sectors of the media. It is designed to provide news consumers, journalists and researchers with hard data about what stories and topics the media are covering, the trajectories of major stories and differences among news platforms.
So the entire purpose of this site is to show what the various outlets are covering. Lo and behold, looking at what cable television was covering during this week, we see that coverage of Anna Nicole Smith nearly doubled coverage of the next most covered topic, the 2008 presidential campaign. Where as we see that coverage of the Smith debacle was dwarfed in every other medium. Smith doesn't even make the list for online or radio news.

To me, the online news results are especially telling. Online news viewing is entirely a matter of choice. When I see an article I do not want to read online, I simply do not click the link to read that article. It seems clear that online news determined that there were stories of more import to their community than the Smith story. This simply reinforces my determination that cable is doomed to fail as viewers decide to boot up for news, rather than click to some cable gossip show in the hopes of getting real news in between the pablum.

Viewer choice in cable news programming is another matter. I told the story a few posts ago about trying to watch MSNBC last week, and winding up getting all hostile at the t.v. because of the coverage. In other words, to watch cable news last week was to watch Smith stuff, and the only way to get away from it was to shut off the news completely. That applies for every channel, and is reflected in the article from Journalism.org. Consider for example that coverage of the Smith death led to 1 1/2 hour straight of commercial free non interrupted programming by CNN. Loyal CNN viewers had to endure or go to the competition, who were undoubtedly covering Smith as well, just with commercials. For those of us who want to watch cable news out of nothing more than force of habit and a desire to stay informed, last week was a desolate waste of time. (Let me grudgingly note that Hardball, while strictly not "news" but more news commentary, was an exception to the rule. Even Countdown devoted segments to the Smith disaster.)

Broadcast news also reflected less an interest in the Smith debacle by a wide margin compared to cable. Network coverage of Smith placed a distant fourth in coverage by the broadcast networks. Keep in mind that viewership of the major network news dwarfs viewership of cable news substantially. One must wonder how the major networks can keep so many eyes on their news if they seem to be disregarding the story that cable news executives determined their community was most interested in?

The aggregate coverage of all news by all outlets shows the Smith story coming in a respectable 3rd. Without the overkill by cable news, the placing in importance by the Smith debacle would have been substantially less than 3rd.

Out of this, I conclude that there is an audience for real news on cable. There are established channels that purport to give news on a regular basis. I would love to see one of them retool themselves to provide strictly news worthy programming. The soap opera pablum does not need to be ignored with this type of programming. It has it's place in human interest type stories that do not purport to be headline material. But I would love to see a cable network give a shot to real news rather than the tripe they are feeding us now.

Excellent post. I'm not only glad we've got organizations reporting on this kind of thing, but folks to reach in and pull it out of the chatter.

And I feel for you. Every morning I click on the news for 15 minutes just to make sure the world didn't blow up while I was asleep, and last week I found myself getting all hostile at the TV as well.
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