CONTAINING LINKS TO 35725 STORIES FROM THE NETWORKS' NIGHTLY NEWSCASTS
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video thumbnailABCWinter weatherHeavy snowstorm leaves Boston streets desertedRon ClaiborneBoston
video thumbnailNBCWinter weatherTransportation disrupted in air, on highwaysTom CostelloMaryland
video thumbnailCBSHealthcare reform: employers must cover contraceptionNuns sue, object to certifying their oppositionJan CrawfordWashington DC
video thumbnailCBSSurgery mishap leaves tonsil patient brain deadHospital refuses medical treatment on corpseJohn BlackstoneSan Francisco
video thumbnailNBCGenetically-modified foods cause controversyGeneral Mills removes GMO corn from CheeriosStephanie GoskNew York
video thumbnailCBSIraq: combat aftermath after US troops pull outMilitia ousts government troops from FallujahDavid MartinPentagon
video thumbnailABCAfrican security contractor exposed as scamUSNavy SEAL impostor claimed to run $500m firmMatt GutmanMiami
video thumbnailCBSVolcano erupts beneath glacier in IcelandTrek to fire-and-ice rim of EyjafjallajokullScott PelleyIceland
video thumbnailNBCSochi Winter Olympic Games in Russia previewedPresident Putin inspects Ring of Steel securityJim MacedaRussia
video thumbnailABCOlympic ice skating Harding-Kerrigan feud of 1993ESPN docu The Price of Gold on knee attackJohn DonvanWashington DC
 
TYNDALL BLOG: DAILY NOTES ON NETWORK TELEVISION NIGHTLY NEWS
DAVID MUIR'S JOURNALISTIC STYLINGS Hollywood Reporter asked me to provide a primer for newly-arriving viewers of David Muir's ABC World News Tonight. It is cross-posted here.

Now that ABC's World News Tonight has all but climbed into first place in the evening news ratings race, David Muir, the new anchor, can expect an extra sampling from viewers unfamiliar with his journalistic stylings.

Needless to say, this is not your Peter Jennings newscast. Under ABC News president James Goldston, World News has cut back on international and political stories and introduced a sensibility closer to that of Good Morning America, complete with tabloid true crime, sports-and-celebrity coverage, news-you-can-use service journalism and buzz around social media.

Unlike at CBS and NBC, World News offers a cable-news-style graphic that makes a story's headline visible even when the broadcast is on mute. In the month since Muir's arrival, his newscast's pace has quickened and its newshole has shrunk at the expense of teases and promos. For his Instant Index roundup of the most-viewed video online, Muir spends nearly half as much time before the commercial pod telling us what we are about to see as we actually enjoy with the ensuing reveal.

The nightly newscasts initially were conceived as television versions of the news agenda found in major newspapers. To ABC's credit, it is trying to rethink its nightly news to make it medium-specific, news that can be uniquely found on television -- in other words, a video newscast rather than a newscast that happens to use video.

Some innovations are refreshing, others miss the mark, a few are frankly ridiculous. While they are not exclusive to World News, they are seen there more systematically. A sampling viewer should watch for ten telltale tricks.

1.Actuality: The underlying event is not really newsworthy. Either something almost happened but was averted, or the event amounted to local news but had no national consequence. But it happened to have been recorded on video. It's news because there is something startling to see, not because something startling happened. Related audio actuality (911 calls, etc) can get the same treatment.

2.Bait & Switch: Often the video of an event is not enough to sustain an entire package. Watch for a pair of techniques for spinning the story out: First, the use of "watch," whereby the correspondent rolls back the video to play it again, perhaps several times. Second, the bait and switch, in which we are told that the new video is similar to a previous, more serious story that was actually newsworthy.

3.Play One on TV: Cellphone video never will have the production values of fictional moviemakers. So watch for a news event being likened to a movie or TV series, so that it can be illustrated by star-laden footage. Related to the bait-and-switch phenomenon, sometimes a news story will be similar to something that happened previously -- to a celebrity.

4.Self-Promotion: The newscast needs to reassure its viewers that its newsgathering is of a sound pedigree. So World News mixes in file footage of an anchor's previous interaction with a newsmaker or showcases its own correspondents asking confrontational questions or includes a soundbite from an in-house expert like Brad Garrett (ex-FBI) or John Nance (airline pilot) in order to seem more authoritative.

5.People are Paying Attention: Completely nonscientific and unrepresentative popular reaction now can be obtained by quoting from Twitter and Facebook. It looks buzzy and gives the story an air of importance.

6.Reality TV: When Muir was a reporter, he was a master at inserting himself into the middle of a story. He's most famous for striding through factories high-fiving blue-collar workers for the Made in America series -- the journalist as central character in his own reality TV show. Now, Matt Gutman is partially filling Muir's shoes.

7.Soundbite Shortcuts: HBO's John Oliver had fun at 60 Minutes' expense with a montage of interviews with dramatically phrased, well-written soundbites -- except the bites all came from the correspondents' own leading questions. Muir takes no backseat to 60 Minutes. Related, see correspondents channeling Art Linkletter, sitting on the floor trying to get kids to say the darnedest things.

8.Korean Storytelling: When video is not available, ABC relies heavily on its Virtual View computer animation team to depict what they imagine the scene might have looked like. And to take viewers to far-away places, why use ABC's own cameras when Google Earth can do the job?

9.Special Effects: To give video that little extra help to be compelling, music is mostly used for inspirational feature stories (check out ABC's America Strong series), black-and-white video for a sense of personal danger (along with handheld camera), and video game-style, lock-on-target clicks for foreign threats.

10.Verb Mangling: Slate founding editor Michael Kinsley spotted the misuse of "-ing"-ending verbs more than a decade ago. That trend has found renewed favor at ABC, where reporters impart a sense of current urgency to past events by slipping in an "-ing" (example: Joe Biden's son [is] "testing" positive for cocaine). ABC's Paula Faris loving it.


FIVE NOTES FROM TYNDALL REPORT ON END CONTINUATION OF NBC NIGHTLY NEWS WIN STREAK: POSTED ON OCTOBER 7TH Last week, for the first time in over six years, NBC Nightly News failed to attract the largest audience among the broadcast networks' weekday nightly newscasts. The top spot went to ABC World News Tonight, and its newly installed anchor David Muir, who took over at the start of September.

Five quick points:

1.This should not be seen as the beginning of the ratings setbacks at NBC News nor the beginning of the advances at ABC News. Rather, the change in the evening newscasts is the last domino to fall. NBC had already lost its #1 spot with Today and Meet the Press. Until now, Nightly had been a holdout.

2.There is always greater churn in audience composition when there are changes in the anchor. A new face always inspires sampling: loyal ABC viewers who had been alienated by Diane Sawyer are tempted to return; longtime NBC and CBS viewers seeking variety have a reason to experiment. Such ratings volatility can be expected for the next few months before it can be called a trend.

3.Muir inherited a newscast at ABC that had already undergone significant content changes under his predecessor: "Certifiably Disneyfied," as I pointed out in my review of 2013's newscasts, spending least time on major stories, foreign affairs and politics; most on lifestyle, celebrity, show business and sports. If anything, Muir's newscast has adopted faster format too, pacier than its rivals, and his predecessor. An average hard breaking news package filed by an ABC correspondent lasts just 100 second (138 seconds on NBC, 121 on CBS); the length of an average feature is 120 on ABC (153 on NBC, 133 on CBS).

4.The major news story during Muir's first month as anchor was the war in Iraq and Syria. It is a complex of stories including ISIS, Kurdish peshmerga, USNavy airstrikes from the Persian Gulf, and refugees in Turkey. ABC spent only 38 minutes covering this complex of stories (just 10% of its newshole). By contrast, it would seem that NBC could claim a hard news edge, with 62 minutes last month (15% of its newshole). Yet viewers who wanted the most comprehensive coverage in that timeslot should have chosen neither. CBS Evening News spent the most time, 89 minutes (22% of its newshole).

5.Indeed there is evidence that NBC Nightly News has diluted its hard news appeal in the month since Muir took over. In part by subtraction: Chuck Todd, its chief White House correspondent, left the newscast to take over at Meet the Press. In part, NBC has focused more on celebrity profiles. In just one month (besides legitimate celebrity news -- the death of Joan Rivers, the suspension of Ray Rice, the conviction of Oscar Pistorius) NBC has aired celebrity profiles on Ben Affleck, Tim McGraw, Meredith Vieira, Joan Lunden, Keke Palmer, and Derek Jeter.

Ever since Scott Pelley took over the anchor chair at CBS, Brian Williams at NBC has tried to occupy the middle ground between old school hard news (at CBS) and an increasingly buzzy, tabloidesque, social media approach (at ABC). NBC's celebrity focus in September may be a sign that this middle ground is beginning to feel squeezed and that it has to compete more and more on ABC's turf. If so, it runs the risk of incurring more defections from those looking for serious content: not to Muir but to CBS Evening News.

UPDATE: on October 14th, Nielsen announced a correction to its ratings data to the effect that it had overstated the size of World News Tonight's audience by some 300,000 viewers. Therefore Nightly News' win streak has not been broken. My observations about the trends at play stand, nevertheless.


COMMENTS ON ABC NEWS' COMMENTS Allow me to respond to this statement by ABC News' Jeffrey Schneider regarding my characterization of its nightly newscast as having become Disneyfied in the past year: "Our mission is to give our viewers information that is relevant to their everyday lives. Winning the Murrow for Best Newscast in 2013 and enjoying our best season in 5 years is far more meaningful than Tyndall's method that confuses quantity with quality."

I have no argument with ABC News' characterization of itself as, instead of having a mission to present a serious newscast, embracing a mission to present viewers with "information that is relevant to their everyday lives."

Included among the changes in focus that this new mission represents, among others, are the following:

-- addressing its viewers as consumers (with tips on handling everyday life) rather than citizens (on decisions made by the body politic)
-- a turn away from global concerns (lack of resources spent on Syria-Egypt-Afghanistan) to domestic ones (in particular, the weather)
-- a preoccupation with what people are talking about (the viral buzz of the Instant Index) rather than with what is happening (public policy debates)
-- an emphasis on what entertains people (shobiz, sports, celebrity, human interest, true crime) over what affects them (gun control, healthcare reform, budget policy, surveillance)

Three quick points on quantity and quality:

-- I believe this Murrow award was for the best single day's newscast, not the best newscast day-in, day-out. My analysis takes the long annual view.

-- When ABC refers to its "best season", I believe it is confusing quantity (audience size per Nielsen) with quality, as the saying goes.

-- It is true that the method embodied in my Year in Review uses quantitative measures not qualitative ones. That does not mean that I concede that ABC World News' journalistic style remains unchanged, and only its deployment of resources has switched from seriousness. The Disneyfication of World News is thoroughgoing, embracing both story selection and story presentation.

Lastly, on the issue of ABC's cancelation of its subscription to my database some ten years ago [which is not part of Schneider's public statement, but has been mentioned by him to some media reporters, for example here and here], three more things:

-- If the cancelation was indeed the motivation for my analysis of ABC's 2013 performance, why would I have waited ten years to make this observation? ABC is the one that changed last year, not me.

-- If the executives at ABC believe that no one would notice the changes in the format and content of their newscast simply by resuming their annual subscription with me, then they are deluding themselves.

-- I resent any insinuation that my research findings represent some kind of shakedown: that I would suppress them if only ABC resumed its subscription. Prior to these insinuations, I had no animus towards ABC and would embrace any decision they might make to reverse course and resume serious coverage of the day's news.

UPDATE: here is a reminder of a Columbia Journalism Review article by Paul Friedman, a onetime executive producer at ABC World News Tonight, written 18 months ago. In it he presaged the wholesale changes that became evident during 2013. He quoted ABC's in-house label for their new style: Insurgent!