A coalition of stations owned by the major networks defended their local news shows last week, rebutting an earlier study by a journalism watchdog group that derided O&O newscasts.
Fox, NBC, [NBC-owned] Telemundo and CBS ganged together to criticize last month's report by the Washington-based Project for Excellence in Journalism, which warned that greater concentration of stations in the hands of giant companies could lower the quality of local news.
But the report has problems of its own, argued the network station group's own study, which concluded that the PEJ study is "fatally flawed."
PEJ, funded by the Pew Charitable Trust and affiliated with Columbia University, examined data collected over five years for its various TV-news "report cards" and applied it to assess the quality of news according to station-group size.
The networks' critique, issued Thursday by Washington-based Economists Inc., said the PEJ effort contained "conclusions based on statistically meaningless data, subjective grading and contradictory findings that make it wholly unreliable and useless as a basis for policy making."
The networks' report called PEJ's judgments subjective and arbitrary, and argued that PEJ failed to consider the growth in ratings among larger groups' offerings that indicate growing viewer preference; the quantity of local news offered by larger groups' stations; market size and what the Economics Inc. report called "contradictions" in several stations' quality ratings in different time slots.
PEJ Executive Director Tom Rosenstiel said the network rebuttal was a predictable response from groups dedicated to further deregulation of local television.
Rosenstiel defended the study and the methods. Many of the rebuttal's criticisms, such as the narrow findings and inconsistencies, Rosenstiel said, were cited in PEJ's own report. He said his report did note ratings growth among large-group stations' newscasts, did account for market size and did note perceived quality differences.
Two members of PEJ's design team resigned this month over the study, which had originally been conducted to rate newscasts generally, not by type or size of the ownership of those stations.
Separately, ABC also criticized the study last week. Disney's top Washington executive, Preston Padden, said it was "ridiculous" to suggest that local network newscasts were "not of high quality."