More So-So Report Cards For National News
Local TV news directors are giving broadcast news organizations higher marks than their cable counterparts — but they don’t believe the work of any national TV news outlet is worthy of an A.
In the latest TVNewsCheck News Directors Survey, conducted around Thanksgiving, the 123 respondents gave CBS News the highest grade point average — a 3.16 on a four-point scale, otherwise known as a B.
CBS’s above average — but not excellent — score marked the second time local news directors did not dole out a single A to a national news operation, either broadcast or cable.
How would you grade the following national TV news organizations on overall journalistic quality on a four-point grade scale?
|Al Jazeera America||1.97||N/A|
|Fox News Channel||1.73||1.69|
In the first TVNewsCheck News Directors Survey, conducted in 2011, news directors gave NBC News the highest mark, a 3.18, also considered a B. This year, NBC News’ grade fell to a 3.05, but was still good enough to maintain its above-average status. CBS News earned a B level 3.08 grade for second place in 2011.
PBS NewsHour, which in the most recent survey news director gave the third-highest grade for quality, also earned a B with a 3.01. The public television newscast was not included in the 2011 survey.
Grades for the national news operations’ journalistic quality start to tank from there. The news directors gave fourth-ranking ABC News a B-, or 2.88, down from the 3.03 they gave the network in 2011.
They gave CNN a C+, or 2.63, down from the B- or 2.78 in the previous survey. Al Jazeera America, new to the arena, got a D or 1.97. And for the second time, news directors also gave Ds to MSNBC, whose 1.74 dipped from its 2011 mark of 1.92, and Fox News Channel, whose 1.73 grade was a slight uptick from its previous 1.69.
The survey also showed a correlation between grades and how news directors' perceive the organizations' objectivity.
Respondents rated CBS News, the highest graded outlet, the most objective of the eight news outlets considered in the survey. Nearly half of the news directors, 47.4%, say they don’t see any bias in the CBS newscasts.
MSNBC and Fox News Channel, which received Ds, are seen as the most partial.
Just 3.5% of respondents see no bias in Fox News Channel, versus 92% who see the organization as "somewhat" or "very conservative." No one deems MSNBC unbiased, and 88.3% see it tilting to the left.
Slightly more than 41% of news directors say they see no bias in ABC News, 38.1% see no bias in PBS News Hour broadcasts and 34.2% report no bias in NBC News or CNN reporting.
With the exception of Fox News, the major TV organizations tend to lean left to one degree or another, according to the news directors.
How would you assess the bias of the following national news organizations?
|Fox News Channel||75.2%||16.8%||3.5%||1.8%||0.0%||2.7%|
That finding tends to confirm the charge that many conservatives, particularly on Fox News, have made over the years, says Bill Wheatley, a Columbia University journalism professor, who was shown the results of the survey.
“On the other hand, 92% of those news directors also believe that Fox is 'very conservative’ or ‘somewhat conservative,’ undermining Fox's claim that it is ‘fair and balanced’, ” he says.
Seth Geiger, whose media research and consultancy SmithGeiger works with local TV news operations around the country, says he’s not surprised to see survey results that show quality and objectivity going hand-in-hand.
“There is a clear orientation among news directors that they want factual, journalistically unbiased reporting,” Geiger says.
Also of note, according to Geiger, is that the grades have a largely inverted relationship to the actual viewer ratings they receive. Fox News Channel, for example, out-rates CNN. CBS News trails its network competitors, he says.
Mary Beth Marks, VP of research at the media consultancy Crawford Johnson & Northcott, says familiarity could be a factor in how well the national news organizations rank.”
“Those with the longer history on the air also got the higher ratings, versus the relative newcomers,” she says. “There could be some perceptions of familiarity or history or experience with the organizations that led to some of the conclusions.”