By Paul LaRocque | March 29th, 2010
Surveys have told us that most people get their local news from television. That fact and the results of a recent Los Angeles survey are causes for serious concern.
The Norman Lear Center at University of Southern California’s Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism watched nearly 1,000 half-hours of local news on eight stations in the Los Angeles media market in August and September in 2009. It found:
“An average half-hour of L.A. local news packed all its local government coverage – including budget, law enforcement, education, layoffs, new ordinances, voting procedures, personnel changes, city and country government actions on health care, transportation and immigrations – into 22 seconds.” That’s seconds, not minutes.
Crime stories averaged 2:50, sports and weather 3:36, soft news 2:26, and teasers 2:10.
The Society of Professional Journalists believes that “public enlightenment is the forerunner of justice and the foundation of democracy.” The Preamble of the SPJ Code of Ethics says, “The duty of the journalist is to further those ends by seeking truth and providing a fair and comprehensive account of events and issues.”
If the Los Angeles survey is an indication of the national TV news picture, U.S. democracy is in trouble. Twenty-two seconds of a half hour is hardly time enough to enlighten viewers on the doings of its government.
As a major source of news and a user of public airways, Los Angeles television owes its viewers more than 22 seconds of civic information. That tiny portion of a half-hour newscast is certainly not a fair and comprehensive account of local civic issues.
Paul R. LaRocque, member, SPJ Ethics Committee