For years, critics have complained that the nightly national TV newscasts are all basically the same, leading with the same stories, covering the same developments, often in exactly the same order. And the networks have been criticized for ignoring international news unless the U.S. was directly involved. There used to be some truth to all that, but not any more.
International news dominated network television coverage with three of the top five stories of the year: political turmoil in Libya and Egypt, and the tsunami and earthquake in Japan. And the networks took noticeably different approaches, with NBC spending the most time on international news and ABC lagging in third place, despite the name of its broadcast–World News.
ABC also spent the least time on hard news and substantially more time than the other two on features and soft news. CBS spent the most time covering the economy while NBC led the group in weather coverage–perhaps not surprising given its corporate ties to the Weather Channel.
The list of correspondents who got the most air time is revealing in itself. ABC’s David Muir got the most exposure by far, 343 minutes covering domestic news. ABC’s White House correspondent Jake Tapper was in second place with 283 minutes. NBC’s Richard Engel reported on foreign news (246) and Chuck Todd from the White House (226). It’s usually a given that covering the White House is a ticket to lots of air time but that didn’t hold true for CBS. That network’s top reporter was Nancy Cordes (226), who covers Capitol Hill.
The other impression you get from the list of most-used correspondents is that ABC and NBC have an A-list, while CBS spreads the wealth. ABC and NBC each have five correspondents in the top 20; CBS has the remaining 10.
One last note: NBC’s Brian Williams has a much larger ”magic“ quotient –the term used at CBS back in the days of Walter Cronkite to describe the amount of time the anchor spent on camera during the broadcast. NBC Nightly News had more than 1,000 minutes’ worth of non-reporter stories, compared to about 850 on CBS and 600 on ABC.