State of the Media: The More Things Change
These findings are part of a broader examination of whether and how the structure of television news content—on cable, on broadcast network newscasts and on local television—has changed in the past few years. Pew Research studied the first five months of 2007 and 2012 for network and cable news, including both morning and evening network news and a mixture of midday and prime-time programming on cable. For local television, the comparative years are 2005 and 2012, for six stations in 2005 and eight in 2012.
Among the key findings:
Interview segments are now as prominent in daytime cable as they are in prime time. Coverage of live events and live reports dropped in daytime programming by about one-third—from 33% of the newshole in 2007 to 23% in 2012. And the airtime devoted to interviews rose from 39% to 51%, equaling the percentage of airtime they fill on cable at night, when partisan talk and debate drive the programming.
In 2007, CNN spent far less time airing interviews and far more time running edited packages than either Fox or MSNBC on prime time. But that had changed markedly by 2012. The percentage of CNN evening programming filled with interviews jumped from 30% in 2007 to 57% in 2012. At the same time, the airtime for edited packages plunged from 50% to 24%
A separate analysis of cable in late 2012 finds that, over all, commentary and opinion are far more prevalent on the air throughout the day (63% of the airtime) than straight news reporting (37%). CNN is the only channel to offer more reporting (54%) than opinion (46%), though by a small margin. By far the highest percentage of opinion and commentary is on MSNBC (85% to 15% reporting). Fox was in between at 55% commentary and 45% reporting.
The average story length on local television news decreased substantially over time. In a separate Pew Research Center analysis of local news content from 1998 to 2002, some 31% of the stories were more than a minute long and 42% were under 30 seconds. In 2012, only 20% of the local television stories exceeded a minute while 50% lasted less than 30 seconds.
The already considerable amount of time devoted to sports, weather and traffic on local newscasts rose even higher among the stations studied, from 32% 2005 to 40% in 2012. The biggest increase came in the airtime devoted to sports, to 12% from 7%. The traffic and weather components of the newscast increased by a smaller percentage (to 29% from 25%), but four in ten of the newscasts examined here led with a weather story.
One measure of the unchanging nature of the broadcast network news format, particularly in the evening, is the story length. The average evening news story package lasted 141 seconds in 2007 and 142 seconds in 2012. The average interview was nearly identical as well: 110 seconds in 2007 and 108 in 2012. And the time allotted to the average stand-up report decreased only slightly, from 91 seconds to 88 seconds, in that five-year interval.