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

Posted September 22, 2003

Measuring Explanation

On March 26, KPIX Channel 5 ran a 26-second story on two would-be robbers who made a serious miscalculation. They attempted to rip off a gun store in El Cerrito, but were shot at by the owner instead. A boy outside a store across the street was injured by a stray bullet in the shootout.

The story accurately recorded the “what,” but the “why” and “so what” were ignored. It was just another hard-luck story going down.

A little after our sample period ended, on Aug. 25, Channel 5 took a much more useful approach. It reported on a weekend of violence in Oakland — seven incidents over three days. The report included a map showing the locations of the violent episodes and quoted Mayor Jerry Brown, who criticized the state probation department for a serious failure to supervise former inmates. A story that began focused on the face of a weeping widow closed as a thematic policy debate that proposed solutions to larger problems that affected thousands of people.

It’s cheaper and easier to fill a newspaper or newscast with reports of seemingly random violence than to treat a problem as an issue. All the sources necessary to harvest the tragedy are at the scene. A reporter can complete the story in several hours. And the heartbreak will draw readers or viewers across the region.

But such reporting leaves us only afraid, not informed of causes, effects and possible solutions. Such reporting cultivates a sense that nothing can be done.

Researchers have learned that news viewers and readers gain much more insight from issue and thematic reporting than from an episodic approach.

Explanation Index

How we constructed the measure

We looked at the percentage of news time or space devoted to stories about issues, or events treated thematically — looking for patterns, causes or solutions. Since some simple events merit top billing, we set the grading standard loosely: If 70% or more of the top stories were about issues (including meetings, laws, etc.) or events treated thematically, an A was awarded. 65-69% earns a B+; 60-65% earns 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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