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Election 2004
07.23.04
Politics and Economy:
Local Elections Coverage
More on This Story:
Election 2004 on Local TV

Last summer, under the guidance of its chairman Michael Powell, the FCC proposed a plan that would raise the caps on TV ownership in a single market from 35% to 45% and permit the same corporation to own both a broadcast station and a newspaper in the same market, in addition to other benefits to media companies. Media advocacy groups came out in force against the proposal, resulting in over two million public comments opposing the plan. While the FCC eventually passed the plan in spite of the public outcry against it, media advocacy groups and citizens remain concerned about media consolidation. Read NOW's full coverage of Media Consolidation.

Since a large percentage of Americans rely on television for their news, the increasing consolidation of control over news networks is alarming journalists and activists alike. Complaints of rising consumer prices and deteriorating local news quality have been registered by numerous groups and individuals. An April 2000 study by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press found that "73 percent of journalists believe that buyouts of news organizations by big diversified corporations has a negative effect on journalism."

In the July/August 2004 issue of WASHINGTON MONTHLY, Ted Turner commented that:

Consolidation has also meant a decline in the local focus of both news and programming. After analyzing 23,000 stories on 172 news programs over five years, the Project for Excellence in Journalism found that big media news organizations relied more on syndicated feeds and were more likely to air national stories with no local connection.

That's not surprising. Local coverage is expensive, and thus will tend be a casualty in the quest for short-term earnings. In 2002, Fox Television bought Chicago's Channel 50 and eliminated all of the station's locally produced shows....

In "In the Dark," NOW reports on the way in which local television stations cover politics... and finds disappointing results. To read about the efforts of some advocacy groups, follow the FCC's series of localism hearings, and find out where to turn for news of your local elections, consult the following resources and check out NOW's state-by-state map of election resources.

Resources

Alliance for Better Campaigns
The Alliance for Better Campaigns is a public interest group that advocates for reforms that reduce the cost and increase the flow of political communication; that open up the political process to more competition; and that facilitate and encourage voter participation. The Alliance is leading the Our Democracy, Our Airwaves Campaign to educate the public about proposals that would require broadcasters to provide voters with better information about candidates and issues during election time, and would allow candidates who raise small-dollar contributions to earn broadcast ad time. The site suggests five ways individuals can help the effort, provides political advertising data on stations in each state, and features a number of fact sheets on relevant issues.

FCC's Localism Task Force
The home page of the FCC's Localism Task Force covers press releases and official announcements from the FCC regarding localism issues. The Task Force is charged with examining the impact of the FCC's regulations on local broadcast coverage. The FCC has completed localism hearings in Charlotte, NC; San Antonio, TX; Rapid City, SD; and Monterey, CA. On the site, find details from past hearings and dates of future hearings, file a comment, or find out how to petition to keep your local radio stations broadcasting.

Grade the News
Grade the News is a Stanford-affiliated institute that seeks to monitor and assign grades to San Francisco news stations. In addition to analysis of news stories that impact local broadcast coverage, they publish ratings for several of the most popular San Francisco affiliates. In a recent study, Grade the News found that Bay Area newscasts pay even less attention to local politics than national. In an analysis of the area's five most-watched stations in the weeks immediately preceding the March 2 election this year, only one station broadcast more than a minute of news per day on its premiere evening newscast that voters could use to decide local races for Congress, the state Legislature, city and county offices and 65 state and regional ballot issues.

Lear Center Local News Archive
The Lear Center Local News Archive provides a nationwide look at the news media Americans experience during campaigns. This project, conducted in collaboration with the University of Wisconsin, tracks local broadcast political coverage; identifies and highlights best practices; provides resources for the improvement of coverage; and provides an online library of broadcast political coverage. The Lear Center has issued reports on local news coverage since 1998, many of which are available on the Center's Web site. Leading up to Election Day 2002, the project released regular reports and commentary on the quantity and quality of local television news campaign coverage, documenting practices like the amount of time local television stations devoted to campaign coverage and how stories were framed.

National Association of Broadcasters
The National Association of Broadcasters is a full-service trade association which represents the interests of free, over-the-air radio and television broadcasters.

The State of the News Media 2004
The State of the News Media 2004 is the latest issue of an annual report on American Journalism by the Project for Excellence in Journalism. The chapter on Local TV offers content analysis; tracks audience trends, station revenue, changes in ownership, and public attitudes; and discusses how local newsrooms are managed.

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