Evaluating print and broadcast news in the San Francisco Bay Area from A to F.

Posted September 22, 2003

Measuring Civic Contribution

A bold headline spanning all six columns of the front page of the Contra Costa Times on July 17 proclaimed “Contractors face end of road,” a reference to one possible outcome of California’s budget crisis: that 600 highway projects could halt if contractors walked off the job.

It was a huge story that affected potentially millions of commuters around the state, and the Times got the scoop. But it was also a complex story about government, something television producers are likely to describe as a MEGO — “my eyes glaze over.”

In the same news cycle, the evening before, KPIX Channel 5, gave the budget only eight seconds. The station had a different strategy about how to capture those eyeballs, leading the 11 p.m. news with a partly-live report from the scene of a bloody car crash at a Santa Monica farmer’s market that left 10 dead and scores injured. The southern California accident story ran more than two minutes.

While the tragic crash was a legitimate top story, so was the budget crisis. And the latter has had far greater impact on the residents of the Bay Area.

Government and political stories need not be dry tomes. The Times story focused not on the bureaucratic infighting between Caltrans and its governing board, but on the bottom line for taxpayers and drivers: $100 million more per month to keep contractors from taking on other projects, and delays in needed safety repairs.

Civic Contribution Index

How the index was constructed

We measured reporting on the actions of those at the controls of our government at all levels, including discussion or protest concerning those people or their policies.

To allow reporters to file stories from the places where policies strike people’s lives, we counted the percentage of time or space taken by all stories in which one-quarter or more of the story described politics, actions (related to public business) or deliberations of government supervisory or regulatory or lawmaking boards or bodies, elected officials or the heads of any agencies of the U.S., state or local governments. We included studies (conducted by government or outsiders) of effectiveness or problems of arms of domestic government and their policies.

We excluded actions of governments outside the U.S.

Journalism ethics asks for constant scrutiny of how our government is behaving. So such stories ought to be a mainstay of coverage. However, they need not consume the majority of news space or time even for the day’s top stories.

The grading standard is as follows: 40% or more for an A; 35-39% for a B+; 30-34% for a B; etc.

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A project of the School of Journalism and Mass Communications at San Jose State University, Grade the News is affiliated with the Graduate Program in Journalism at Stanford University and KTEH, public television in Silicon Valley.

Monitoring the Bay Area's most popular news media:

Contra Costa Times

Knight Ridder

San Francisco Chronicle


San Jose Mercury News

Knight Ridder

KTVU, Oakland (FOX)

KTVU, Oakland (FOX)

KRON, San Francisco

KRON, San Francisco

KPIX, San Francisco (CBS)

KPIX, San Francisco (CBS)

KGO, San Francisco (ABC)

KGO, San Francisco (ABC)

KNTV, San Jose (NBC)

KNTV, San Jose (NBC)


Bay Area media advocates:

Media Alliance
Center for the Integration and Improvement of Journalism at SFSU
Maynard Institute
Youth Media Council
Project Censored
New California Media
Society of Professional Journalists, Northern California chapter
National Writers Union Bay Area chapter

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