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For Bay Area broadcasts, most politics is not local

The FCC is investigating TV 'localism' claims. But area stations subordinated local races and ballot measures to the presidential contest.


When Michael Powell, America's most powerful television regulator, comes to Monterey Wednesday evening he has promised to ask: "Are there any segments of the local community that you believe are not being adequately served?"

A Grade the News' analysis of how well Bay Area television stations prepared residents to cast informed votes on local and state issues in the March 2 election, identifies one very large under-served group -- voters.

We analyzed the Bay Area's five most-watched stations In the weeks immediately preceding the election. Only one station broadcast more than a minute of news per day on its premiere evening newscast that voters could use to decide local races for Congress, the state Legislature, city and county offices and 65 state and regional ballot issues.

News voters could use to decide Congressional, state and local races and ballot measures (in seconds per premiere evening newscast)

News organization

Cong-
ress

State-
legis.

Local
races

Prop
55

Prop
56

Props
57 & 58

Local
ballot
measures

Mult.
races

Total
seconds

KTVU (Channel 2)
0
0
0
0
18
13
24
0
55
KRON (Channel 4)
0
0
0
0
0
12
21
0
33
KPIX (Channel 5)
0
0
0
0
0
3
7
0
10
KGO (Channel 7)
0
0
0
0
2
3
5
0
10
KNTV (Channel 11)
0
0
10
13
10
17
43
7
100

Due to recording failures KPIX was recorded on 12 evenings; all other stations were recorded on 14.

The Federal Communications Commission, which Mr. Powell chairs, is holding six national hearings to determine how well broadcasters tailor their programs to serve the unique needs of the communities in their signal area. Several commissioners have identified newscasts as particularly important places to look for local public service.

KNTV Channel 11, the NBC-owned-and-operated station in San Jose, broadcast a minute and 40 seconds of local political issues per evening on its hour-long newscast. While that falls short of the time it devoted to weather, sports and reports of random crime on these evenings, KNTV spent 10 times as much time reporting on such issues as stations owned by rival networks CBS and ABC.

KGO Channel 7, the ABC station, and KPIX Channel 5, the CBS station, devoted an average of just 10 seconds of their prime evening newscasts to the substance of all state and local races and propositions combined. KTVU Channel 2, the Fox affiliate in Oakland, broadcast just under a minute of news voters could use to decide local races. KRON Channel 4, an independent, ran half a minute a night.

Channel 11 was the only station to spend more time on local races and ballot measures than on the national presidential primary campaign, a race all but decided by the March 2 balloting. KPIX, by contrast, spent 86% of its political coverage on the national presidential contest.

The purpose of the six "localism" hearings, Chairman Powell wrote in a statement issued July 1, is to advise the commission on steps it can take and what, if anything, it might recommend to Congress "that would strengthen localism in broadcasting."

Grade the News surveyed newscasts during the week immediately before the spring election and the third week before the election. By "news voters can use," we mean everything but "horse race" coverage of politics -- who's ahead and which strategies political operators are employing. Political scientists have found such tactical reporting does little to help voters make up their minds because it lacks information about candidates' records and political stands.

Grade the News previously reported on the amount of time spent on all types of political reporting among the Bay Area's most popular television stations and newspapers.

What do you think? Discuss it in The Coffeehouse.

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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

Hearst

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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