Where is the News on the Evening News?

Ever since my family moved to the United States in the late 1980s, we have been loyal viewers of the CBS Evening News. This tradition was unanimously ended two weeks ago, when we simply could not stand the decreasing amount of actual news in the broadcast any longer.
The CBS Evening News generally features a little over ten minutes of news, followed by commercials, an investigative report, more commercials, and finally a “heart warming” segment or some kind of other story.
I wanted to find out if this was the format of choice for all three major 6:30pm newscasts, so I did a little study. I also observed one broadcast of the BBC America News at 6pm. I began with CBS, which I observed on Wednesday, February 28:
CBS Evening News on February 28:

  • Market drop/economy (3 minutes)
  • “Beyond Wall Street,” a personal story about a dentist who has some money invested (5 minutes, 20 seconds)
  • Upcoming Iraqi Neighbors Meeting (50 seconds)

Then came a segment entitled “Matters of the Heart” about babies with heart defects and the recent successful heart surgery of a fetus.
There was a 25-second mention of John McCain’s announcement that he’s running for president, followed by a story about illegal immigration from the view of a farmer who lives on the U.S./Mexico border. Finally, there was a segment about the book The Secret by Rhonda Byrne.
BBC America World News on February 28 (6pm):

  • Airbus to cut 10,000 jobs over the next four years (2 minutes, 30 seconds)
  • Market drop/economy (3 minutes)
  • Israeli military, Jordan/Iraq Referendum, North Korea talks (1 minute total)
  • Italian politics (2 minutes, 30 seconds)
  • Stolen Picasso painting in France (2 minutes)
  • Repeat of headlines (15 seconds)
  • South Africa’s Elephant problem (2 minutes 15 seconds)
  • Scientists attempting to recreate the Big Bang at a Geneva laboratory (3 minutes)
  • Controversy over Israel’s Eurovision entry, “Push the Button” (2 minutes)
  • Early bird migration (1 minute, 30 seconds)

NBC Nightly News on March 2:

  • Walter Reed Medical Center Scandal/Francis Harvey resignation (3 minutes)
  • Tornados in the Southeastern United States (4 minutes, 20 seconds)
  • Bus accident in Atlanta (2 minutes, 30 seconds)
  • Markets (30 seconds)

There was then an “In Depth” segment on medical teams in Iraq, a report on cough medicines for children under the age of five, and a segment entitled “Making a Difference” on Project Cuddle
ABC World News on March 2:

  • Tornados in the Southeastern United States (7 minutes, 10 seconds)
  • Other storms from the same weather system (20 seconds)
  • Atlanta bus accident (2 minutes, 30 seconds)
  • Walter Reed Medical Center Scandal/Francis Harvey resignation (2 minutes, 30 seconds)
  • Conservative Political Action Conference (20 seconds)
  • Markets (15 seconds)
    Just like on NBC, there was a report on cough medicines for children. Subsequently there was a 20-second mention of today being the birthday of Dr. Seuss, followed by a “Person of the Week” segment.
    Conclusion: I found that all three major American evening newscasts have a similar format. They begin with a little over ten minutes of “top stories,” covered rather thoroughly, before switching to an even more in-depth segment about a recent report (such as the one on cough medicines for children) or an ongoing issue (such as illegal immigration). Finally, there’s a lighter segment on a person or organization.
    This is drastically different for the news from BBC America, which “covers more stories with less story.” Also drastically different is where the stories come from. Despite calling itself ABC World News, there was not one piece of international news in the broadcast I watched.
    I wonder if the increasing emphasis on reports rather than simply news is a result of the effects of the internet. It could be, that since we are exposed to news headlines all day in nowadays, that the networks feel that they have to provide something different. Further possible evidence for this is the switch of Headline News from their famous “Headline News Wheel” all day to including news shows such as Glen Beck and Nancy Grace.
    I have also found that the three major networks will generally only feature international news if it directly affects the United States. A statement by the President of Iran on that country’s nuclear ambitions might get a mention. Elections in Senegal almost certainly will not.

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