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The Changing Face of Network Television News

Network news anchors and correspondents are a far more diverse group than they were two decades ago.
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Women and members of ethnic minorities have made huge strides in network television news over the past 20 years, according to a newly published analysis.

In the journal Electronic News, Kathleen Ryan of Miami University of Ohio and Joy Chavez Mapaye of the University of Alaska, Anchorage, look at female and minority representation on the three major networks’ news programs during one week in February 2007, and compare it to a similar survey done in 1987. Both the 1987 and 2007 studies examined all the news programming on ABC, CBS and NBC, including the evening news, morning shows and late-night broadcasts.

The differences were startling. In 1987, men reported 73 percent of stories; in 2007, men reported 48 percent of stories and women 40 percent. (The remaining 12 percent were team efforts featuring reporters of each gender.)

“The appearance of Katie Couric on the CBS Evening News isn’t a fluke: More women are reporting overall on air in a greater variety of jobs and time slots than they did two decades ago,” Ryan and Mapaye write.

Members of minority groups, both male and female, also made strides. In 1987, only 5 percent of stories were reported by minorities; that figure increased to 32 percent in 2007. “White correspondents still dominate network news staffs,” the researchers report, “but in certain prominent roles, minority groups appear in significantly higher numbers.”

Ryan and Mapaye also looked at the content of the news programs, and not surprisingly found “significantly more feature stories” in 2007 than 1987, “and significantly fewer international, Washington and regional stories.”

“We would argue that it’s a mere coincidence that the shows with the highest levels of female correspondents also have the highest level of feature stories,” they write. “It might be more a function of the nature of the programs and the expectations of the audience in those time periods.”

Strikingly, in terms of the types of stories covered, they found the three network evening newscasts were “virtually indistinguishable from one another.” During the week they examined, each devoted between 18 and 23 percent of their time to international news, 11 to 14 percent to Washington news, and 29 to 39 percent to features.

It’s worth remembering that, for all the attention paid to cable news, the broadcast networks’ reports are still seen by far more viewers. During the first week of April, more than 20 million people tuned in to one of the three network evening newscasts — two of which are now anchored by women.