News directors say they're being pressured to do more news with fewer resources even as they fight to keep sponsors out of the newsroom.
More than half of 118 news directors surveyed by the Project for Excellence in Journalism, in a report issued last week, said they felt pressure from advertisers to kill negative stories or run "puff pieces."
What emerged, says Project management, "was the sense that the relentless push by advertisers and sales departments inevitably yields small concessions from beleaguered news directors. … News directors may feel obliged to compromise just to keep their jobs."
News directors admit, the study found, "that advertisers get something more than just commercial time for their money. In over two-thirds of stations, for instance, news sponsors are named by the announcer or identified with a particular news segment. At about half the stations surveyed, the sponsor logo appears in the newscast," and some stations interview sponsors or mention them in newscasts, although the survey found that sponsors were denied a role in story selection.
The Project—which advocates more community coverage, more enterprise, better sourcing, more staff, long stories, and time for story development—acknowledges that its philosophy for news quality runs "counter to the prevailing wisdom in local TV."
For the fourth time, the Project issued a report card of sorts, this time reviewing efforts from 43 local stations in 14 markets. Because its formula this year focused on late news and excluded the hour-long 10 p.m. newscasts, the study did not rate many Fox stations, weblets or independent efforts.
Eight stations—including three in Tampa, Fla., and two in No. 170 market Billings, Mont.—got A grades.
Two stations, WSOC-TV Charlotte, N.C., and KVBC(TV) Las Vegas, got failing grades. WSOC was criticized for poor sourcing, one-sided stories and over-reliance on breaking news. KVBC, which, the study notes, is a top ratings contender, was criticized for lack of localism and for sourcing and breaking news coverage. KVBC(TV)'s Jamie Ioos, news director since April, had no comment.
WSOC General Manager Lee Armstrong said she is "puzzled by some of the conclusions" in the study and questions "the pertinence of looking at a snapshot and making a determination that seems to be overbroad." Noting that hers is the top-rated station in the market, she added, "We are proud of our breaking news coverage."
A complete list is available on the Internet, at www.journalism.org.