21st Century Journalism XXV: Depth PaysA recent report from the Project for Excellence in Journalism (PEJ) indicates that local TV stations serve their own best interests by offering viewers high-quality newscasts.
As reported by Drake Bennett in the October 14 edition of the Boston Globe, PEJ's We Interrupt This Newscast: How to Improve Local News and Improve Ratings, Too, published this year by Cambridge University Press, presents evidence that viewers of local news broadcasts "consistently reward in-depth reporting with higher ratings than more cursory stories, no matter what the topic."
The report's authors, Tom Rosenstiel (PEJ), Marion Just (a professor of political science at Wellelsey College), Todd Belt (a professor of political science at the University of Hawaii at Hilo), Atiba Pertilla (a fellow in the history department at New York University), Walter Dean (PEJ), and Dante Chinni (PEJ), explain:
Our analysis of newscast content correlated with ratings success shows — contrary to the conventional wisdom that local TV news could do better by following the rules of good journalism putting in the effort to get good stories, finding and balancing sources, seeking out experts, and making stories relevant to the local audience. [Wellesley College press release of September 21, 2007]Bennett's article includes counter-arguments from several informed observers, such as consultant Jerry Gumbert, who believes that ratings alone do not lend themselves to clear interpretation concerning viewer preferences. In Gumbert's view, ratings must be combined with querying viewers about the specific reasons they make particular program choices.
I cannot say that I find the Gumbert position persuasive. Yes, focus groups and individual interviews can provide insights concerning viewer preferences, but I would be surprised if such research produced recommendations fundamentally at odds with those derived from the PEJ's research findings.