Television News: A Status Report (The Networks)

Here is a beginning of a report from the Project For Excellence In Journalism on the status of television networks. Please read the entire report and be ready to discuss in class. Also keep in mind that your test on Monday will include questions based on this report, the television chapter in your book and the lecture from Dr. Roger Fransecky.

Network TV
By the Project For Excellence In Journalism

Summary Essay

Heading into 2009, there were some small signs of promise in network news. Viewership of the evening newscasts actually rose in the November, December and January following the 2008 presidential election. It dipped in February and March 2009, but was up again in April.

Was it the economy and a sense among viewers that they needed the synthesis of taped packages they couldn’t get on cable talk shows? Or was it enthusiasm and curiosity about the incoming president? Or some new shift caused by DVRs or the popularity of network websites bringing people back to the networks?

Whatever it was, time wouldn’t sustain it. By May, the audience spikes dissipated. For the year, network news audiences had fallen 500,000 more from the year before, less of a drop than in many years but nevertheless a continuing decline. Most of the losses came at ABC’s World News, down 444,000 viewers year to year. NBC Nightly News actually grew by 65,000 viewers. CBS Evening News remained in third place. The year ended with a change at the ABC anchor desk, with Diane Sawyer replacing Charles Gibson. As usual, the new anchor attracted a sampling of curious new viewers, increasing audience numbers, however briefly. Sawyer’s arrival meant that, for the first time, two of the three nightly network newscasts were anchored by women.

You can read the entire report here.

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About Samir Husni

Samir Husni, aka Mr. Magazine™, is the founder and director of the Magazine Innovation Center at the University of Mississippi. He is also Professor and Hederman Lecturer of Journalism at the School of Journalism and New Media. Dr. Husni is the author of the annual Samir Husni's Guide to New Magazines, which is now in its 28th year. He is also the author of Launch Your Own Magazine: A Guide for Succeeding in Today's Marketplace published by Hamblett House, Inc. and Selling Content: The Step-by-Step Art of Packaging Your Own Magazine, published by Kendall Hunt, Magazine Publishing in the 21st Century, published by Kendall Hunt, and co-author of Design Your Own Magazine. He has presented seminars on trends in American magazines to the editorial, advertising and sales staff of the magazine groups of the Morris Communications Company, Hearst Corp., Hachette Filipacchi Magazines, Meredith Corp., Reader's Digest Magazine, ESPN the magazine, Sail Magazine, American Airlines Publishing, the National Geographic Society, the Swedish magazine group Bonnier, the Finnish magazine group Sanoma Magazines, Southern Progress magazines, New South Publishing, Inc., the Society of Professional Journalists, the American Society of Magazine Editors, Vance Publishing Corporation, the Florida Magazine Association, The Magazine Association of Georgia, the National Society of Black Journalists, the Japanese Magazine Publishers Association, and the American Press Institute. He is "the country's leading magazine expert," according to Forbes ASAP magazine, "the nation's leading authority on new magazines," according to min:media industry newsletter; and The Chicago Tribune dubbed him "the planet's leading expert on new magazines." Dr. Husni has been interviewed by major U.S. media on subjects related to the magazine industry. He has been profiled and is regularly quoted in The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, USA Today, The Chronicle of Higher Education, and many other newspapers nationwide, as well as the major newsweeklies and a host of trade publications. He has appeared on Good Morning America, CNBC, CNN, CNNFN, PBS, and on numerous radio talk shows including National Public Radio's Morning and Weekend Editions. Dr. Husni has also served as an expert witness in several lawsuits involving major media corporations including Time Inc. and American Express Publishing among others. He has been a judge of The National Magazines Awards, The Evangelical Magazines Association, The City and Regional Magazines Association, and The Florida and Georgia Magazine Association Awards. Dr. Husni is the President and CEO of Magazine Consulting & Research, a firm specializing in new magazine launches, repositioning of established magazines, and packaging publications for better sales and presentations. Dr. Husni holds a doctorate in journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia and a master's degree in journalism from the University of North Texas. When he is not in his office reading magazines, Dr. Husni is at the newsstands buying magazines.
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36 Responses to Television News: A Status Report (The Networks)

  1. Angela Rogalski says:

    Network news has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember, with CBS being the prime source. After reading this report I really thought about the fact that CBS and ABC have no other platform for their networks. NBC has set the precedent for multi-platforms in news coverage. So what are the other two waiting on? Why are they procrastinating where their futures are concerned? Money, maybe. While viewership is down and, subsequently advertising dollars, I just can’t understand why the two networks haven’t created their own cable programs before now. Maybe back when NBC did. Realizing the tract that media’s future is taking, I think it would be to ABC and CBS’s advantage to get on the bandwagon somehow. And quickly too. I still enjoy sitting down in the early evening and watching the nightly news. And I know, according to the report, there are a few more like me out there. As for the morning programs, I must admit, I’ve never been a big follower of either network’s offerings. I am usually not at home in the mornings to partake of these. But I know a lot of people used to according to the report. Since the numbers are slipping there too, maybe more people are like me, at work now instead of at home. With the economy I would think that would be a strong possibility. In any case, if network news doesn’t get with today’s program, unfortunately, they may not have any program to worry about.

  2. Wanda P. says:

    Out of all these networks I can’t say anything really because I really dont watch news. I watch the ABC family channel thats about it. My opinion tv is just tv, I dont think of it as networks or satellite or anything like that its all cable to me. So all this statistics and combinin companies is really not my concern I just watch whatever I find interesting, I’m what you call a flipper, I keep changing channels until I get bored of it and finally stop or turn the tv off. I’m kind of old school to be my age I guess thats how it is if you was raised by older people who didnt have cable. The only thing I did as a child was go outside and play and go to church, other than that tv was the last thing on my mind. But since it have been improved I use to be addicted to it, but now walk around the house, it just do not interest me no more I watch my shows and then I mean what else you suppose to use it for nothing never on, it do not matter u have Tivo, Satellite, Dish whatever nothing is on.

  3. Lorraine York says:

    It does not surprise me that network television’s morning shows’, such as “Good Morning America” viewers are declining in number. The role of the “stay at home mom” is declining in this country, and less and less women will be at home during the hours that these shows come on. They will be at work and unable to view these shows. And even when the shows come on at earlier times, they will be dropping their kids off at daycare or getting them ready for school. Like we have been discussing, these people will not want to have to worry about watching certain shows at a certain (inconvenient) time, but they will want to get the news on their own time, from the internet or news channels that are on 24/7. ABC and CBS should consider tapping into other ways to communicate with once loyal viewers, so that they will not lose them forever.

  4. Katie Keatley says:

    While it is unfortunate that the evening and morning news shows are declining, I definitely understand why they are doing so. People are generally very busy in the mornings and by the afternoon they are so exhausted and ready to get some rest. There is very little time for TV these days, and the little time we do have is generally not spent watching the news. Like we discussed in class, people don’t feel the need to be home at a certain time to watch a show. If they want to watch it, they will just record it and watch it at their own convenience. As disappointing as it may be, people are not as excited about watching or hearing about the latest news right away. They feel that they will be able to access it whenever and wherever they want.

  5. K. Nicole Miller says:

    I found this article very interesting. It suprised me that the three main nightly news stations were all anchored by women. Not only were they all anchored by women, but Diane replacing Charles actually increased the amount of viewers for ABC news. It also did not suprise me that the 2008 Presidential elections raised viwers that later declined. I think that some of the reasons why the elections brought so much attention was because of the racial debates and our first African American that had an upper hand at winning the election. I think that news stations aired on television will always exist, but I think that the internet may catch up with it and maybe take over the majority of viewers.

  6. Gloria Briggs says:

    Nothing about this article surprises me. News broadcasts were bound to be heading out if newspapers and magazines were. People every single day are becoming more independent. They don’t need to watch some news show to get their opinions. Of course news shows do more then discuss issues, they also have breaking news and things citizens need to know about. The problem though is that people can simply get all the breaking news sent right to their cell phones when it happens. Every one these days is in a hurry and most people probably do not want to spend their free time in front of a TV listening to some thing that they already know about.

  7. S. Blair Jackson says:

    A central theme in this article is that ratings, views, and revenue of network television shows are constantly changing. As the article pointed out, inconsistent viewerships of the evening news in 2009 could have been for many reasons including public interest in the new president or a spike in DVR usage. I think that we need to keep in mind that, at any given time, there are many factors that play into why there are more network television viewers than at others. I think that social aspects will need to be an important thing to take into account as we try to keep network television afloat.

  8. Quanterrius Ward says:

    Given that the current TV ratings system works by having a relatively small number of people record their viewing habits, I am always skeptical of the numbers shown. Even so, I can certainly see why TV viewing for morning news is down. Much like Saturday morning cartoons, audiences are not being offered anything that they cannot obtain at a more convenient time from 24 hour cable news. Network TV is also at a disadvantage to cable when it comes to showing more diverse and less restricted content which is crucial for winning over the younger demographic. Those young people are more inclined to watch programs such as The Daily Show or the Soup rather than Good Morning America or 60 minutes. I believe that the main support for the latter two programs comes from the baby boomer generation. The fact that said generation makes up the largest demographic of people in the country may very well be what is keeping the currently failing Good Morning America and other morning news programs afloat.

  9. Stevie Farrar says:

    The varieties of changes that are occurring within the network news industry are to be expected– the world is changing, and so are the things within it. In terms of viewer ratings and numbers, I agree with the theory that events of the time affect the amount of viewers. Major events mean larger interest from the public. It’s simple. But perhaps what most surprised me in this article was the topic of corporate mergers. Throughout this course, we have talked mainly about competition – who can be the first to develop the next big thing that enables the message to reach a larger, more diverse population. So why are these corporations looking to throw in the towel by means of mergers? Yes, I understand that mergers do not always mean giving up, especially when a considerable paycheck is involved, but the fact that NBC has the only true multi-platform media system surprised me. In would have thought everyone else would have jumped on the boat by now. In such a competition-driven market, I just cannot understand the reasoning behind merging instead of competing.

  10. Davis Abraham says:

    I feel like the steady drop in viewers of evening news can be attributed to the rise of news on the internet. As more people begin the trust credible news sources on the web, they turn to instant news rather than waiting to hear news at a specific time on television. One of the mergers mentioned in the story (ex- CNN and CBS) could go a long way in increasing rating for news by creating a television media ginat.

  11. Laura Kate Tutton says:

    I remember from a young age always waking up in the morning and watching the Today Show with my mom. I still watch it when I get the chance. It is the morning show I trust the most. It is so sad to see these news channels viewers decreasing. I love technology, but it can only go so far. I do not want internet to take over our television shows. I do not want to see our news channels disappear over the next few years.

  12. Matt Daniels says:

    Dr. Husni mentioned a while back how with an increase in technology based media such as online news websites, blogs, newspaper aps for phones, etc., people don’t have to wait until they get home from work or wait until the next morning to learn what happened in the world that day. I think this has led to a decreased demand for traditional broadcast news.

  13. Betsy Lynch says:

    I think the dramatic cuts in ABC’s employees are a wonderful example of the idea of quality over quantity. Yes ABC was able to produce hard news, soft news, entertainment, etc. with the extra 500 people working for them, but even after job cuts they are still able to sell a product. It does not matter how many people you have working for you, all that matters it the product they are able to produce. Buyers want to buy a worthy product, and viewers want to watch worthy news. In addition, I think it’s important to recognize that in the digital age, being able to view the news on your on schedule is huge. Though I know my grandparents have a scheduled news hour as a part of their daily routine, there are very few people in the younger generation that block out a set amount of time to watch the news during its scheduled time. Instead, it is much more convenient to scroll through articles online, at your own pace, and on your own time. There are many factors that determine viewership with network and cable news programs. Quality and convenience are just two among many.

  14. Brittany Danielle Vaughn says:

    So the fact that the three most watched news programs are anchored by women definitely surprised me. This is one reason why media and things in the world are changing. Women aren’t dependent on men anymore. As for the broadcast channels decreasing I dont understand that. I still watch several news channels everyday. And I know plenty of people that watch it too.

  15. Taylor Benvenutti says:

    It doesn’t surprise me that the network news channels are having problems with their current revenue. Many people do not have time to watch much television. When they find the time, they most likely will not want to spend it watching news channels. Instead, people want to relax and watch entertaining shows, not informative ones. If they feel like they need to find out what is going on in the world they will probably turn to online sources. There they are able to find out what they are interested in and get on with their busy lives.

  16. Alexa Bafalis says:

    This article was very eye opening to me, because up until after reading this I had not thought about the power that NBC obtains. NBC has created this powerhouse function that seems to lead the world in the news department.This article greatly explained the increasing change in technology and the aftermath on the media due to the changes. The cutback of jobs that ABC had to endure shows the harsh effects that economy has done to society but one thing is certain, people will never stop needing the news. So out of the storm comes the silver lining, giving the Americans a certain sense of hope if they want to succeed in the news industry, that there will always be a place for journalists to spread the news.

  17. Sidney Williams says:

    Morning and evening shows alike are declining. This is terrible, yes, but does no one realize that EVERY type of business has had branches decline lately with the infamous “economic problems” we face? Some branches go up while others see a decline, or erosion as the article puts it. The decline surely wasn’t “out of the blue” either. Numbers have been declining in newspapers for years. Why is it such a shock that broadcast journalism would see a decline in viewers, ratings, and revenue as well? But even with all the decline, the networks aren’t going anywhere. As the article stated, “For all the erosion in network TV news audiences, an average of more than 22 million Americans still tune in to the three commercial network news broadcasts each evening, five times the number of people watching the three cable news channels at any given moment in prime time, when far more people are home at in front of their TV sets. And another 1.2 million watch the PBS NewsHour.” I think we’ll be A-ok!

  18. Stephanie Wales says:

    I understand why the decline is so rapid in network television. I remember as a freshman that I bugged my parents about what kind of tv I wanted. My stepdad simply replied by telling me that I wouldn’t have a chance to watch much tv. I hate to admit it, but he was correct. Now that I’m a senior, my flat screen is sits at my apartment for decoration. I can’t imagine what it must be like to be a mom, a wife, and have a full time job. Kids by far have more oppurtunity to watch television than adults, but I seriously doubt that they want to watch ABC or NBC when their favorite shows’ is having a marathon on Nickelodeon. With the birth of cable tv and the infamous internet, network tv has to find some way to reinvent itself. But how? That is the million dollar question that I hope they find an answer to soon.

  19. Stephanie Wales says:

    SN: can someone tell me why the time is wrong on here?

  20. Alexa Evans says:

    The changes in network tv do not surprise me. America is becoming more and more fast paced every day. We have to rush to get here and rush to do that and watching a tv show or news broadcast at its scheduled time is kind of crazy for most people. When ratings spiked I believe it was due to the presidential election and when something big like that happens again, people will be sure to watch the news more. Also the news is full of the war and crime and while that is reality and society needs to be informed about it, some people cant handle it and I think thats another reason ratings have declined. As for the major networks, it seems like ratings being a roller coaster would be a normal thing and im sure they will find some way to bounce back.

  21. Elizabeth Sales says:

    It’s as simple as this: why wait around to get the news (via t.v.) when you could get it at the click of a mouse? People are impatient and with these new mediums arising, they are getting more and more greedy.

  22. Lauren McMillin says:

    After reading this article, it only makes sense that morning and evening news broadcasts are on the decline. Just as newspapers and other forms of print media are moving on to the latest and greatest new “thing”, so are traditional news broadcasts. People today live in a world that is constantly on-the-go, and hardly anyone has time or even thinks about setting aside time to watch the morning and evening news. This is mostly due to the fact that news is so readily available that people do not have to worry about missing a headline or a breaking news story; rather, they can learn about it at the moment it happens, all without interrupting their hectic schedules. So while there is change in the way that people receive their news, it is important to remember that there has always been some form of change taking place, helping the world move forward and toward the next new wonder.

  23. Peyton Thigpen says:

    I grew up always watching the Today Show every morning before we went off to school. With the rise of the internet however, this trend declined. This trend has obviously held true throughout America. The nightly news is becoming less and less important to people as they are able to obtain their news elsewhere. I think it would be nice to live in a time when people relied on the nightly or weekly news to know what is going on in the world. But, with today’s society becoming more and more hectic, and people’s need or want for information becomes more and more instantaneous, people are going to go to the news source that will give them that news the most rapidly. This trend with no doubt continue, but hopefully the nightly news will never be lost.

  24. Joshua Bryant says:

    We must pay attention to the fact that these are all news networks. The fall in their ratings goes along with the idea that most people nowadays are getting their news from online rather than print or even television. I don’t want to muddle through 25 minutes of banter when I can get the jest of the story from cnn.com And I believe that’s the reason for the fall in these networks ratings. You can get news faster and cleaner online.

  25. Robert Heard says:

    I am not a big news watcher. With the exception of sports news on ESPN SportsCenter, I rarely tune in to a news broadcast. On occasion, I will watch the local news, but the only time that I seem to tune into a network news broadcast or a CNN or Fox is when there is something big going on in the world that I am interested in. I don’t know how many other people are the same as me, but I think that ratings are going down because people today have more ways to get their news. As more papers have come out, as the Internet as developed, as people have started getting their mobile devices with apps, there are more and more resources for news. People no longer need to watch news broadcasts to get their information. I think that TV is becoming more of pure entertainment, where most people that watch are watching sitcoms and TV series, rather than watching shows for information.

  26. Nelson Duke says:

    A central theme in this article is that ratings, views, and revenue of network television shows are constantly changing. As the article pointed out, inconsistent viewerships of the evening news in 2009 could have been for many reasons including public interest in the new president or a spike in DVR usage. I think that we need to keep in mind that, at any given time, there are many factors that play into why there are more network television viewers than at others. I think that social aspects will need to be an important thing to take into account as we try to keep network television afloat.

    • Nelson Duke says:

      Sorry about the post, my friend that trying to get me in trouble. I enjoy getting my news from the television because with the technology we have for the advancement of news working. News on the televison is so up to date that people get it instantly instead of newspapers and magazines.

  27. Hayden Sowers says:

    It would certainly not be good to lose any of the big 3 network news sites. I watch the morning show every day during the summer and most days during the school year. I like waking up and catching up with the news from the past day or days. I also watch the 5 o’clock news everyday on NBC with Brain Williams so it certainly wouldn’t be good for me if NBC went down. I speak for myself in saying that I wouldn’t like it if one of the 3 networks had to shut down, but I think I am in the minority as most people would rather not get up that extra hour early in the morning when you can just get to work and look at the news on the internet. I think one of the reasons that network news viewing has dropped is because some Americans just simply don’t have the time to sit down for an hour and watch a program. America has become such a busy world that some people just simply don’t have the time.

  28. Jonece Dunigan says:

    With life going on during the morning, such as getting the kids ready for school and getting yourself ready for work, it is no surprise that the viewers are going down. When the nighttime comes, people want to relax and do not want listen to the same doom and gloom as heard all day. That’s why the more entertaining news such as the Colbert Show is so popular. It gives people laughter which provokes relaxation in at the end of the day.

  29. I’ve grown up in more of a broadcast family. It’s always been Fox News, Houston Chronicle and the Drudge Report for us. Not a big fan of any of them really. I understand the dips in ratings. Along with trust in news going down, so does peoples time to actually watch it. I mean, think of how long it takes to get one story out. They mention it briefly at the beginning of a broadcast, then they will tell every small story first along with all commercials. And then they will finally tell the story you wanted to hear, and it’s not even that important. No one has time for this when they could easily get the news online. It’s just life.

  30. Jory Tally says:

    Watching the news on t.v. is my favorite way of finding things out. However, with the rate of newspapers and magazines going down like they are it was bound to happen that the news we watch would as well. People are more busier it seems like in times now and they dont have time to just sit down and watch t.v. It is more convienent to get news online when your on the go and you find exactly what type of news your looking for.

  31. Jackson Boyd says:

    It is very surprising to me that the morning news on television is on the decline. I knew that newspapers and magazines were currently on the decline, however reading this article was somewhat of a shock to me. I have never been one for the morning news on tv simply because my schedule has not permitted me to do so, but I growing up I would always see my dad watching some sort of news on television while getting dressed for work. I guess the reasoning behind this is simply because the news is so easy to activate now. Why watch it on tv when you can simply check it on your Blackberry or iPhone on the way to work or school? Certain sources of news are currently in trouble. More creativity is needed as well as a fresh start…Maybe more people would watch if this were the case.

  32. Ellen Graves says:

    Television news broadcasts will never die. Although, most might think the faster you can get the news, the better, I do not. For me, I have an increased level of trust for broadcasts reports on television. Even though some might argue news can be biased, I’d rather it be somewhat biased than flat out untrue, which leads me to my next point of internet news. I might glance at news sites on the internet, but I do not have the trust factor for internet news. One second a sight claims Justin Bieber is dead, and the next second he’s on the beach with the Kardashians. Not that I particularly care at all about Justin Bieber, but the basic issue of trust can be applied to any news story.
    NBC is very smart in applying what it has to offer across several mediums. The more mediums it reaches across, the more access it has to the general population. And as we can tell, it seems to be all about the numbers these days. However, as for me, I am perfectly content with winding down my day by listening and watching Brian Williams explain the news of the day and how it affects my life.

  33. William Stokes says:

    I would suppose this is just further evidence to the fact that Americans want to choose their stories. Why wait for a specific time of the day and endure commercial breaks when you can already be up to date in a grand total of five minutes by skimming the headlines on the internet?

  34. Kells Johnson says:

    The TV broadcasting network is failing quickly due to people not really caring or relying on the news anymore. In this generation, people do not care much about what is going on around them(mostly young people) as much as they used to. Also, new forms of media are beginning to birth, such as phone applications and the internet. Some people would rather look at their phone while on the way to work or an event, rather than attemp to rush home to see the 6 o clock news. These innovations of public broadcasting have caused tv revenues to decrease. Many televisions should migrate to being broadcasted on the web, that way they will make more money because most technological attention goes toward the web. Television is trying to hang in with it’s competitors, but is really has no chance in surviving if this keeps up.

  35. Sealy Smith says:

    I can’t really tell you the reason for why the trend among newshows are on a rollercoaster ride(or in the recent case, down hill slope) but there are several factors that come to mind that I feel could effect the audience of these shows. First off, people are for the most part going to watch something that interest them or applies to them. Maybe viewers think that the news is too morbid to watch. Maybe they can’t bare to here about people killed in battle or even people murdered on our own soil by fellow Americans. Or maybe these viewers don’t believe that the news really applies to them. Maybe that’s why they don’t watch newshoes, because they can’t find anything in them that effects them, or atleast directly effects them anyways. I wonder what the viewer outcome looks like amongst fictional television such as dramatic movies, soap operas, or funny sitcoms. Maybe today’s viewers, just like several viewers from the past, don’t like to face reality and sometimes need an escape from the world around them. This has been the case several times in American history where people surrounded themselves with light entertainment to keep their minds off the depressing things that they are forced to face. I mean we’ve all heard the expression “the news is just too depressing to watch”. This is a sad reality when we can not even face up to what is actually going on around us, but it happens all too often in today’s world. As for the ratings increasing due to change-ups on these certain newshows, I mean obviously, change keeps us interested. Therefore, maybe that is what these shows need, more change. I understand that they have to deliver the new, no matter how bad (or that is atleast their purpose), but maybe there could be a change in the way they present it to the public. This is why it is so important for media to take the initiative and be creative for their viewers!

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