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Cable Technology Feature Article

March 19, 2013

TV Newsroom Content Cutbacks are Sending Viewers Skittering

By Tara Seals, TMCnet Contributor

Shrinking newsroom budgets are driving consumers to change their viewing preferences when it comes to networks and news shows. As TV news invests less and less in original and in-depth content, one-third of U.S. consumers say they (31 percent) have deserted a news outlet because it no longer provides the news and information they have grown accustomed to.

According to the Pew (News - Alert) Research State of the Media 2013 report, estimates for newspaper newsroom cutbacks in 2012 put the industry down 30 percent since its peak in 2000, and below 40,000 full-time professional employees for the first time since 1978.

That’s having a bigger effect in some arenas than in others. At local TV affiliates, Pew found that sports, weather and traffic now account on average for 40 percent of the content produced on the newscasts studied, while story lengths shrink.

Cable news networks, which should have much richer budgets, aren’t immune either, and it’s here that cutbacks may have the most high-profile consequences. “On CNN, the cable channel that has branded itself around deep reporting, produced story packages were cut nearly in half from 2007 to 2012,” Pew Research noted. “Across the three cable channels [CNN, Fox News and MSNBC], coverage of live events during the day, which often require a crew and correspondent, fell 30 percent from 2007 to 2012, while interview segments, which tend to take fewer resources and can be scheduled in advance, were up 31 percent.”

Fox’s programming mix, Pew Research found, has had the most consistent programming mix over the past five years, although during daytime live coverage has somewhat given way to the cheaper-to-produce interview-based talking head format.

SNL Kagan noted that MSNBC spends the least amount of money producing its news: just $240 million in 2012. And corresponding to that, its mix of interview-based content is the highest. The research revealed bias levels across networks as a function of the amount of opinion content to be found during airtime, as opposed to straight news. It turns out that MSNBC fills up its telecasts with the most amount of opinion segments, accounting for 85 percent of the Comcast (News - Alert)-owned network’s coverage.

CNN meanwhile spent $682 million, while Fox won on the investment front with a spend of $820 million.  Fox News Channel’s content offers 55 percent opinion, 45 percent straight news, while CNN, which has always maintained that it strives to be unaffiliated with politics, came in with 46 percent opinion and 54 percent straight news.

The ongoing drain of news-producing resources adds up to a news industry that is more undermanned and unprepared to uncover stories, dig deep into emerging ones or to question information put into its hands, Pew Research concluded—a fact that is translating into real consequences as the story-makers themselves turn to other methods of disseminating information.

“Newsmakers and others with information they want to put into the public arena have become more adept at using digital technology and social media to do so on their own, without any filter by the traditional media,” it said in the report. “They are also seeing more success in getting their message into the traditional media narrative.”

Edited by Rachel Ramsey

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