A content analysis of local television news: Coverage of controversial issues and diverse populations in Eau Claire, Wisconsin
Sims, Judy R.
Wisconsin Communication Association
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The purpose of this study was to understand the types of messages communicated through local TV news in Eau Claire, Wisconsin by examining the news content broadcast by two local TV stations. The objectives of the research were to explore how many news stories: (1) addressed issues defined as “controversial” by Eau Claire registered voters, and (2) covered a population identified as “diverse” (defined as American Indian, Hmong, African-American, and/or Hispanic). Researchers also were interested in examining types of story content, types of lead stories, and the number of stories per newscast. The methodologies of survey and textual analysis were employed. A mail survey questionnaire was sent to a stratified random sample of 1,036 Eau Claire registered voters to gather information about their TV news viewing preferences as well as data concerning what they considered to be current local “controversial issues.” Although the questionnaire achieved only a 39% response rate, evidence exists to claim a representative sample. The controversial issue data were categorized and transferred to a coding instrument used to analyze the texts, i.e., the newscasts. The coding instrument featured operational definitions for 22 types of stories, 26 issues identified as “controversial” by the survey respondents, and the four “diverse” populations. Trained coders (two researchers and three undergraduate research assistants) content-analyzed 150 stories from a random sample of 18 evening (6 p.m.) newscasts (a total of 24 newscasts were videotaped). Intercoder reliability coefficients were calculated for each story, each newscast, and the total project. According to the results, a majority of the respondents stated they valued “local news” more than “national news.” “The most represented type of story covered by the two stations combined was “crime,” which also was the dominant type of lead story broadcast by both stations. In the 18 analyzed newscasts broadcast by the two stations combined, approximately 36% of the 150 stories addressed issues identified as “controversial” by the survey respondents. However, the “controversial issues” identified most frequently by the respondents were not covered by either station. And, of the 150 stories analyzed from both stations, only one story addressed a population defined as “diverse.” Future research might explore opinions shared by the local community concerning obsessive coverage of crime as well as perspectives regarding quality coverage of vital issues of local concern. Future research, perhaps ethnographic studies of newsroom routines and journalists’ awareness of diverse cultures, could help explain why minorities are largely unrepresented in local TV news. In addition, focus groups, composed of spokespersons from certain minority communities and news directors, could be conducted to understand the interests and needs of each and how to best serve all. This research provides insight to aid in understanding how people learn about local cultures other than their own through the media, as well as the connection between messages broadcast by local TV news and a vital prerequisite for democracy, a well-informed electorate. (Contains References: 57 sources; 13 Notes; Table 1: Coverage of Types of Stories by Station; Table 2: Selection of Lead Stories by Station; Table 3: Coverage of Controversial Issues by Station).
Coverage of diverse populations
Coverage of locally controversial issues
Local television news
Number of news stories
Stories per newscast
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