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Network TV – Intro


By the Project for Excellence in Journalism

After a tumultuous 2006 with shakeups among anchor and executives, 2007 marked a return to more stability for network news.

The evening programs, if anything, became more alike, much as they were before their makeovers of the last two years. CBS reined in its anchor, Katie Couric, to the point that she is operating even more conventionally than her rivals.

Efforts to expand the audience appear to have failed. In the evening, the total audience fell once again, continuing a trend that began with the advent of cable in the early 1980s. In 2007, the fight over this dwindling audience in some ways intensified. ABC News dethroned NBC for the first time since the summer of 2005, when its anchor, Peter Jennings, died, only to have NBC reclaim the lead in December.

The morning news audience declined too, for the third year running. While NBC kept its long-time lead, ABC managed to lose fewer viewers, and the gap between the two rivals narrowed.

Financially, the picture is more difficult to discern. Numbers are not broken out. But in 2006, the last year for which complete data are available, advertising revenue for both the morning and evening newscasts appeared to drop slightly.

Online, the networks appeared to be moving toward partnerships rather than building on their own, often with ventures that might bring in younger demographics. ABC News teamed up with Facebook, a popular social networking site, and CBS News signed on with Digg, a user-generated site with no reporters or editors.

And while the evidence suggests that overall staffing continued to drop, the three networks appear to be responding to the long-standing decline in foreign bureaus by re-staffing with one-person bureaus, bringing overseas bureau numbers back up to the mid-teens.