"Media Effects" Paradigms for the Analysis of Local Television News Shanto Iyengar Department of Communication Department of Political Science Stanford University
Prepared for Annie E. Casey Foundation Planning Meeting Center for Communications and Community September 17th-18th, 1998
In the modern era, it is common knowledge that people learn about the larger world beyond their immediate experience primarily through television news presentations. Scholars from every discipline have weighed in at length on the meaning and significance of the shift from print media to television as the news medium of choice.
Although television is still the dominant source, in recent years the public's consumption of news programming has shifted noticeably. While formerly audiences tuned in to the networks' national newscasts with regularity, today more people rely on local news programs than on network news. Opinion surveys recorded this shift as early as 1993 when the Roper Organization's annual survey of television viewing noted that a plurality of Americans cited local news on television as their major source of information.
More compelling evidence than media use surveys is the relative share of the viewing audience commanded by network and local news programs. Based on Nielsen audience ratings from the country's two largest media markets (Los Angeles and New York), it is clear that the number of Americans who tune in to local news programs on a daily basis far exceeds those who watch national newscasts. Averaging across both markets, the cumulative audience for evening local news easily surpasses the cumulative audience for national news (See Gilliam and Iyengar, forthcoming).
The huge audiences for local news reflect fundamental changes in television programming. In most areas today, local news programs air during the morning, afternoon, evening, prime time, and late night. Between 1991 and 1996, the amount (expressed in hours) of weekly local news programming available in Los Angeles increased from 80 to 97. For New York, the weekly total rose from 85 to 91. During the