True to CNN's reputation for global newsgathering reach, "NewsNight" devoted more time than the other two newscasts to correspondents' packages. FNC is the most opinionated of the three networks, a trait that was evinced by Brit Hume's nightly two-part roundtable of in-house political analysts that ends each newscast.
The crisis sparked by the events of September 11, 2001 and the resulting war dominated the entire cable news network schedule for the first few months after it began. That domination is waning now, but its effects were still seen in January 2002, more than four months later: CNN ran "War Room", a half-hour report anchored by Wolf Blitzer; FNC's Laurie Dhue anchored an hour-long "War on Terror" update; MSNBC has "A Region in Conflict with Ashleigh Banfield". In a cable-news primetime environment populated almost entirely by men, these latter two programs had the only female anchors.
Their content, too, is an anomaly. All other programs in cable news primetime use either the interview format or the newscast format. These programs contain a balance between the two. They are not anchor-driven or news-driven but single-issue-driven. As such, they are an exceptional format, which will presumably disappear as the news agenda reverts to non-crisis norms.
Dhue's program especially was uncharacteristic for FNC, where interviews are usually opinionated and combative. Hers, instead, adopted a measured, neutral tone, which was similar to Blitzer's and other CNN anchors. FNC still showcased its own staffers with attitude. As was the case with Hume's hour earlier each evening, Dhue's neutral questioning was complemented with heavy use of in-house analysts as interview guests.
"A Region in Conflict" was the least interview-heavy of the three, emphasizing Banfield's skills as a correspondent rather than an anchor. Similar roles are played by Christiane Amanpour at CNN and Geraldo Rivera at FNC but neither of them was assigned a primetime hour during the week of the study.
There were two other newscasts on the networks' primetime schedules, each with a format not found elsewhere. CNN's "Live from..." showcased the network's global reporting reach and its commitment to in-depth news coverage of the top stories of the day. During the week of this study, the half-hour "Live from..." originated from Guantanamo Bay (on the military detention camp), Houston (on Enron), the Congo (on the eruption of Mount Nyiragongo), Afghanistan (on al-Qaida training bases) and the Philippines (on the U.S. military joining the counter-insurgency against Abu Sayyaf).
CNN's "Live from Houston" was extended to one hour and anchored by the network's Moneyline veteran, Lou Dobbs. Curiously, while the Enron collapse was the story of the week on the broadcast networks' nightly newscasts, FNC and MSNBC both relegated the bankruptcy below coverage of Guantanamo Bay, American Taliban John Walker Lindh and the War in Afghanistan. Economic coverage in general accounted for 10 percent or less of their total news coverage, while on CNN the economy accounted for almost 20 percent. None of the three cable news networks spent a significant amount of time on a series of domestic social beats, including health and medicine, education, science and technology, and arts and culture.
Stories are ranked in order of total coverage in taped packages, other reports and anchor read-only stories on the first four days of the week: January 21 to January 24, 2002. These rankings exclude interviews, in-house panels and commentaries.
In contrast with CNN's "Live from...", FNC's "Fox Report" with anchor Shepard Smith is an hour-long survey of a broad array of the day's developments. CNN and MSNBC were top-heavy in their story selection. Both spent much more non-interview time on the top ten stories of the week. FNC's newscasts instead devoted more time on the week's 120-or-so less-newsworthy stories than on the top ten. In addition, "Fox Report" unusually showcases its anchor. As much time was spent on Smith's newscasting as on stories filed by correspondents.
The studio-based newscast was in large part a compilation of videotape clips narrated in a jaunty style. Smith, for example, dubbed the top newsmaker of the week in question, John Walker Lindh, the young Californian accused in an al-Qaida conspiracy, as "Jihad Johnny." A breezy collation of worldwide clips is labeled "Round the World in 80 Seconds." And a show-business report on the movie "The Mothman Prophecies" identified Laura Linney as 'actress' and her co-star Richard Gere as 'Buddhist.' It is normal for an anchor to be responsible for setting the tone of programming on cable news television - FNC uses Bill O'Reilly or Sean Hannity, for example, to impart a plainspoken, even iconoclastic mood. Those, however, are interview programs. Shepard Smith is an irreverent newscaster.
|Content Analysis: Highlights | Introduction | Newscasts | Interviews | Conclusion|
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