Study shows 9/11 hasn't changed TV news coverage
By David Bauder
A new report suggests that the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks did not cause long-lasting changes in the way television evening news programs cover the world.
ABC, CBS and NBC's broadcasts have returned to a mix of news and features similar to what they aired before Sept. 11, after an intense period of hard-news coverage, reported the Project for Excellence in Journalism.
At the same time, network morning shows still show fewer soft features than they did last summer, the study said.
The percentage of hard-news stories on the evening news shot up from 46 percent in June 2001 to 80 percent in October. But during the first three months of this year, that percentage had gone down to 52 percent, the study said.
"The fact that the evening news has essentially gone back to the basic formula that it resembled last summer suggests that it's not news that is deciding what network news looks like, it's the format," said project director Tom Rosenstiel.
Paul Slavin, executive producer of ABC's "World News Tonight," questioned the report. Business news, including Tuesday's story about Merrill Lynch & Co. being fined $100 million by the New York attorney general, is defined as soft news in the report, he said.
"Tell that to the Wall Street Journal," he said. "Yes, we have gone back to putting on a more balanced program filled with all sorts of news. Guilty as charged."
Steve Capus, executive producer of NBC's "Nightly News," said viewers indicate the news programs are getting the right mix, since ratings are up this year over last.
"I think the world in May of 2002 is a different place than it was in the weeks after Sept. 11, and our broadcasts reflect that," Capus said. "I hotly dispute the notion that we've gone soft. That's just ridiculous."
The Arab-Israeli conflict has accounted for nearly half of the international stories on the evening news programs this year. Stories from Afghanistan made up just 5 percent of the international coverage. This suggests news decisions are made to a certain extent on where the networks can focus their limited resources, Rosenstiel said.