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Citizen audit of localness of local TV news

Barely half of local newscasts focus on local issues and events

A citizens' audit of local television newscasts prepared in advance of the Federal Communications Commission "localism" hearing today suggests that barely half the local news in four Western metropolitan areas is about the locality at all.

The survey also found:

Because the survey did not include a random sample of all major stations in the markets, nor were coders trained, the results represent a snapshot of local TV news through the eyes of ordinary viewers. The citizen audit is an exercise in personal judgment guided by a common questionnaire and instructions rather than social science. Other volunteers might have coded the newscasts somewhat differently.

The importance of localism

A core principle of socially responsible journalism is that the closer an event or issue comes to the viewers, the more likely it is to have a significant impact on their lives. Local news isn't always more consequential than international or national news, but it often is.

In this survey local news was broadly defined. All stories that took place in the station's metropolitan region were designated as local. In addition, stories that directly affected the region, such as statewide news from the state legislature, were also coded as local.

Because few of the stations surveyed employ reporters outside their own metro area and because most also carry network newscasts oriented to international and national news, local newscasts might be expected to focus heavily on issues and events within their home community.

The survey was conducted by volunteers who taped newscasts in their locality and evaluated them using scorecards provided by Grade the News. Twelve volunteers completed questionnaires assessing broadcasts at 11 stations.

The citizen audit was jointly sponsored by Media Alliance, the Department of Media Studies at the University of San Francisco and Grade the News.

What do you think? Discuss it in The Coffeehouse.


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

Site highlights


The three-part series follows the rise of three Bay Area handouts:
• Part 1: At free dailies, advertisers sometimes call the shots
• Part 2: Free daily papers: more local but often superficial
• Part 3: Free papers' growth threatens traditional news
• See also: SF Examiner and Independent agree to end payola restaurant reviews
• And: The free tabloid that wasn't: East Bay's aborted Daily Flash


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Newspapers can't maintain monopoly profits because they've lost their monopolies, by Philip Meyer
Knight Ridder in grave jeopardy, by Lou Alexander...


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