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Study Finds Good, Bad in Local Newscasts

Television * KCBS rates high in several areas; KTLA said to follow tabloid format.


Local television newscasts landed at both the top and bottom of the scale in terms of quality, according to a major study released Thursday by a group affiliated with the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.

Evening newscasts were generally of higher quality, with KCBS Channel 2 outranking its network competitors, concluded a study from the Project for Excellence in Journalism, which is funded by the Pew Charitable Funds. The station finished among the top five of the 50 stations studied in 15 cities across the county.

Prime-time local newscasts did not fare as well in the survey, with KTLA Channel 5 receiving an "F" for its 10 p.m. newscast. KTLA (which is owned by Tribune Co., parent of the Los Angeles Times) was near the bottom of all the newscasts surveyed nationwide, finishing 48th out of 50 and last out of 10 prime-time news hours.

The survey, which used criteria developed by a team of veteran news professionals, found that there were large differences between local newscasts at 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. Although the 10 p.m. editions have 30 more minutes than their early evening counterparts, the newscasts don't devote any additional time to enterprise reporting.

KCBS's early evening newscast scored an "A" in a number of key categories, including topic range and the number of viewpoints expressed. The survey criticized the news operation's reliance on unnamed sources, saying 42% of its stories contained unnamed sources.

Not surprisingly, KCBS news director Roger Bell said he was pleased by the station's standing in the survey, "but being the perfectionist that I am, I'm always urging everyone to do better. I don't want us to rest on our laurels. There are a couple of areas where we need to improve."

Nevertheless, the station has traditionally struggled in the 6 p.m. time period, consistently attracting a lower audience than rivals KABC Channel 7 and KNBC Channel 4.

Meanwhile, KABC's 6 p.m. newscast received a "B" in several quality categories, including topic range, source enterprise and number of sources and viewpoints. But the station received a "D" in seven of the quality categories. KNBC, in contrast, received an overall "D" for its newscast.

In giving KTLA's 10 p.m. newscast an "F," the survey concluded that the news closely followed a tabloid format.

Hal Fishman, the 10 p.m. news anchor and managing editor, called the survey "erroneous. I'm being objective, not because I work for the station. It's very superficial, and I found that their sampling techniques were not explicitly presented."

He added, "Tabloid means compact and concise, with many pictures. I say it's fine to call us that, because we always have tremendous video. There is a negative connotation to that word. The people who did this survey are just completely out of line, and they don't understand the L.A. market."

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