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Public Attitudes

Public Attitudes

For the first time in years, there are some signs of concern in public perceptions of local TV news relative to other media, a chink in a historic strength.

In the past, local TV news has been considered more credible than network news. In 2004 the two were even. On the positive side, viewers of local TV news see less bias in the news media over all than do other news consumers.

The percentage of Americans giving local TV news the highest grade for believability declined in 2004 to 23%, down from 26% in 2002, according to polling by the Pew Research Center. The percentage giving local TV news the second-best ranking also slipped, from 39% to 36%, while the percentages giving it one of the two lowest rankings grew.1

Believability of Local TV News
2002 vs. 2004
Design Your Own Chart
Source: Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, “News Audiences Increasingly Politicized,” June 8, 2004

In 1985, local TV and network news were seen as equally credible. In 1998, when the question was asked again, local TV news had a slim edge of 4 to 6 points, which lasted through 2002. Now, as of 2004, the gap has been erased, with local news believability declining to the level of network news, and network news holding steady at 22% on average.

Believability of Local TV and Network TV News
1985 to 2004
Design Your Own Chart
Source: Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, “News Audiences Increasingly Politicized,” June 8, 2004

In January 2004, when asked if media coverage was biased in favor of Democrats or Republicans, people learning about the election from local TV news were least likely to say it was biased. Only 29% of those viewers saw bias, compared to 35% of network TV news viewers, 42% of newspaper readers, and 52% of Fox News viewers. And 43% of local TV news viewers said there was no bias at all in election coverage. Network news viewers were the most likely to see no bias (45%), while only 34% of newspaper readers and 29% of people following the election on Fox News saw no bias in coverage.2

Media Users Seeing Political Bias
January 2004
Design Your Own Chart
Source: Pew Research Center on the People and the Press, “Cable and Internet Loom Large in Fragmented Political News Universe,” January 11, 2004.

Local TV viewers may see less bias, but the polling data also raise some questions about the information they are getting on local news. When asked two basic questions about the candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination in January 2004, local TV news viewers were less likely than average to answer correctly. Indeed, they were tied with morning news viewers in getting the answers wrong.3

Knowledge of Presidential Candidates
Percentage of media users able to answer two questions about Democratic presidential candidates

Source of Election News
2 Correct Answers
1 Correct Answer
No Correct Answers
Daily Newspaper
30%
23%
47%
Cable News Channels
24%
25%
51%
Network Evening News
20%
22%
58%
Local TV News
14%
19%
67%

Source: Pew Research Center on the People and the Press, “Cable and Internet Loom Large in Fragmented Political News Universe,” January 11, 2004.

Such data may reflect on the audiences as well as on the news. Yet the success of a news medium at conveying certain basic information seems essential to the mission. Further study on how well different news media do in getting information across would be useful.

Yet for the first time in awhile, the public polling data suggest more reason for local news broadcasters to worry, and less reason for them to be sanguine.

Footnotes

1. Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, “News Audiences Increasingly Politicized,” June 8, 2004. Online: http://people-press.org/reports/display.php3?ReportID=215.

2. Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, “Cable and Internet Loom Large in Fragmented Political News Universe,” January 11, 2004, questionnaire, Question 17.

3. Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, “Cable and Internet Loom Large in Fragmented Political News Universe,” January 11, 2004, questionnaire, Question 17. Percentage of news users correctly answering two questions about the Democratic candidates, namely “Who is a former Army general?” (Wesley Clark) and “Who is the former House minority leader?” (Dick Gephardt). Only news sources with more than 300 respondents saying they get campaign news from that particular source included in table.