survey of 246 working TV journalists found a substantial gap between the
importance journalists place on reviewing information before air and the
frequency with which this actually happens in their newsrooms.
"It's rather haphazard and
inadequate," one person wrote of their review process. "I pray that our
'standard of review' is not replicated often in my profession," wrote another.
The system works best for
investigative stories and sweeps pieces. More than nine out of ten respondents
said it's extremely important to review these scripts and a similar number said
they are always reviewed. But while 94 percent of journalists said it's just as
important to review daily news reporter scripts before air, only two-thirds
(65%) said that always occurs. Eight of ten respondents said it's also extremely
important to review anchor scripts, but only half as many, four in ten, said
those scripts are always reviewed. "One of the big problems is that the people
who write anchor scripts--the producers--are the same people who check those
scripts," one person wrote, "and it is easy for people to miss their own
A clear majority (71%) also
rated a review of promos as "extremely important," but here too, the newsroom
process fell short. Less than half (40%) said a promo review always happens, and
a significant number, one in five, said their promos are never or rarely
reviewed before air.
pitfall is in promos when stories are just not presented faithfully," one person
wrote. "The promo department often creates, prepares and airs promotions without
even once consulting the reporter, or his/her supervisor," said another
not place as much importance on the review of graphics, live reports or packages
on tape. But they were still more than twice as likely to say that reviewing
each of these elements was extremely important, as they were to say that it
were more likely than their staffs to say that reviews of every kind of material
are always conducted, and in almost every case they were much more likely to say
For example, about a quarter
of the news directors said the content of live reports is always reviewed,
compared to just 10% of other journalists. In the case of daily news reporter
scripts, three-quarters of the news directors said these are always reviewed,
while just over half (53%) of other staff agreed.
And news directors were more
than twice as likely as others to say that graphics are always reviewed (29%
versus 14%), and three times less likely to say their graphics and live shots
are never reviewed (4% versus 15%).
What this suggests is that
the system may be broken, and many of those in charge don't know it.
Market size also affects how
journalists rate their newsroom's review process. Journalists in top 10 markets
had the best overall impression, with 12% describing it as
percent of journalists in the smallest markets (151+) felt the same. What's
startling is that journalists in markets 11-20 gave their process precisely the
same lackluster rating--only three percent said it was excellent.
"Too much news,
too few competent people to review," explained one respondent in a top 20
market. "More shows, more live, fewer people=more errors," wrote another. "It's
the largest markets, 1-10, were significantly more likely than those in other
markets to say that script reviews were always performed. But the news directors
in large markets were less likely to be involved in the reviews than in other
markets. Instead, the assistant news director or the managing editor took on
that duty. This probably comes down to a larger staff allowing for more
dispersal of responsibility.
The survey shows that while
local television journalists care deeply about the accuracy of what they
broadcast, many of them are working without a backstop. "In an effort to save
money, many of the safety nets to catch mistakes and errors have been cut," one
respondent wrote. "More than ever, the quality of the newscast depends on the
quality of the producer, because there is no one to catch his/her mistakes."
1.This survey was conducted from June 7 to
July 4, 2001. Responses were collected online.
Mitchell of the Project for Excellence in Journalism analyzed the results.
Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org
3. A follow-up study in 2002 by Chris Tuohey of Syracuse University,
focused on small market stations, found similar gaps in the script