PEJ study: Serious news was temporary

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TV news got more serious in the wake of Sept. 11, but it didn't last, the Project for Excellence in Journalism said.

"Despite the war on terrorism and conflict in the Middle East," PEJ said,
"the news Americans see on network television has softened considerably since
last fall, to the point that it now looks more like it did before the terrorist
attacks than immediately after."

In fact, the study said, foreign news increases considerably when the Middle
East conflict flares up, which kept the study's statistics from showing the
network newscasts even softer.

Celebrity and lifestyle coverage -- which had all but vanished from
evening news last fall and was subordinated even in morning news -- has returned to levels
close to those of last summer.

Such features, the study said, have again risen to 20 percent of evening
newscasts, while national and international news has dropped by 3 percent.

ABC's evening news was first in percentage devoted to hard news with 54
percent in 2002, followed by CBS, unchanged from last year at 53 percent,
and NBC with 47 percent. All networks scored in the low-20 percent range in
mornings.

The overall findings refuted, the PEJ said, "the idea that television journalism
was somehow scared straight or fundamentally changed by the attack on America
and the war on terrorism."

CBS responded that it has "always been committed to hard news. That hasn't
changed since 9/11."

NBC News offered, "These studies are often based on old assumptions on
what news is. The fact is, the country has responded to all three nightly
newscasts with an increase in viewership, and that's the most important
study."

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