Protests Turn Off Viewers

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Covering war protesters may be bad for business. That's among the findings of new research from Frank N. Magid Associates, the influential news consulting firm.

In a survey of 6,400 viewers on their attitudes regarding Iraq and the media, the news consulting firm found that the viewers had little interest in anti-war protests. Magid doesn't tell news directors to avoid protests. It just says viewers tend to hate seeing them.

"Obviously, you have to give both sides of the story,'' says Senior Vice President Brian Greif. "But how much time you devote to [protests] and where you place it in your newscast becomes an issue."

According to Grief, the research ranks war-related topics by viewer interest. Protest coverage was at the bottom.

Near the top are stories about technology that can protect troops or citizens at home, particularly in markets seen as terrorist targets or with large military bases, Greif says. "Viewers find a lot of value in those stories.

"The issue for the local stations—and it comes through loud and clear—is that, if they take a traditional approach to their coverage they are making a big mistake."

For proprietary reasons, Magid did not to release the entire list of story preferences, but Magid's research usually gets the attention of news professionals, because as news doctors, their prescriptions usually help.

The study says that 45% of Americans rely on cable news channels as their principal source of war news, twice as many (22%) as those who turn first to the broadcast networks' evening newscasts (see chart).

The most popular second stop for war news is local TV stations, the research says. Viewers are turning to cable first because of the convenience, Greif says. They know that they will get the latest news from the front. Then, he says, they turn to local newscasts "for the local perspective and the local impact."

Greif is not surprised that viewers see local newscast as a better second choice than the broadcast networks' evening newscasts (27% vs. 22%). The evening newscast tends to repeat what is on cable, he says. Plus, "viewers have a higher level of trust, a higher level of comfort with local stations than they do with the networks."

He was also impressed that Fox almost tied CNN as the preferred cable channel (CNN wins, 37% to 36%). "The study is a strong indication of how strong Fox has become in a short period of time."

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