Updated: 08/29/2013


The Decline of

TV News


Although TV news has its moments of shinning success, such as the coverage of the terrorist attacks on the East Coast of the United States in September, 2001, and the invasion of Iraq in March, 2003, over the last few decades the credibility of TV news in general has declined.

Here are just a few reasons why:

  • As media mergers continue and there is more of an emphasis on corporate profits, business interests have taken over news operations and cut back on reporters, writers, videographers, and technicians. This has impacted the quality of news coverage.

  • TV news is no longer seen as public interest programming the way it once was. It's now a moneymaking endeavor driven by ratings.

  • Since rating points translate into profits, maximizing audience size is now the driving force behind most TV news. This has resulted in two things a shift away from stories which have social and political significance to stories that are "more engaging" and more easily understood by viewers.

  • With the emphasis shifting to form over substance, stations tend to favor "news actors" over competent news reporters. This article and the follow-up letter speak to part of this issue.

  • In order to increase ratings some cable news channels are slanting news toward the preferred (political) views of their audience.

Many broadcast professionals remember a time when newspapers and electronic journalism were held in much higher esteem — primarily because there was a "high wall" separating news departments and bottom-line corporate interests.

"[we have seen] a 20-year trend in which the media...have steadily replaced journalistic standards with those of show business."

Frank Rich, The New York Times

News and Politics

A study conducted by USC's Annenberg School for Communication and the University of Wisconsin-Madison analyzed newscasts of 122 local TV stations in the nation's largest media markets during the 2002 mid-term elections. They found that the majority of the newscasts at these stations did not contain a single campaign story.

Of those that did, the average story was 89 seconds long. Most stories did not focus on issues, but simply who was ahead in the election. A clear link was found between stations owned by media chains and the absence of local election information.

The situation is even worse in radio, where thousands of stations in the U.S. are owned by a single company which has few if any ties to local communities.

It is assumed -- generally by newscast consultants hired by the stations -- that election news does not help ratings. Even so, political advertising is a major source of revenue for the stations.

" Most of the nation's newspapers, magazines and television stations, seeking greater profits through larger audiences, fed the public a diet of crime news, celebrity gossip, and soft features, choosing to exclude more serious topics that news managers feared would not stimulate public attention."

CNN Journalist Peter Arnett with one
explanation as to why Americans tend to be less informed about world events than citizens of many other countries

At the same time we need to put some things into perspective.

For many years TV has represented the number one source of news and information for the vast majority of people in industrialized nations.

Note in the graph below that among college-age students the Internet is now the primary source of news and information. More than one person in this age group has explained that they can simply get the information faster from the Internet.*

Note that in the graph below that newspapers are in last place.

Most relied upon souces of news

Although this graph doesn't represent the general population, it may suggest the beginning of a trend. (See also youth and media use.)

A well presented and balanced Internet source of news, not burdened by an abundance of commercial intrusions is the red dot BBC news website.

>> The blog article, The Debasement of TV News, has more information on this issue.


* In the early days of the Internet commercial content was virtually non-existent. However, today advertising is even more prevalent on the major Internet news sites as it is in broadcast TV.

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