Top story tonight? Bet on crime

Published Aug. 13, 1997|Updated Oct. 1, 2005

It's a crime what the evening news covers.

From 1993 to 1996, crime was the favorite topic on the networks' nightly newscasts, covered in one out of every seven stories, according to a study released Tuesday.

The rate of crime stories was triple that in the early '90s, the study said, which also found that news about homicides jumped more than 700 percent.

Conducted by the Washington-based Center for Media and Public Affairs, the study cataloged 95,765 stories on ABC's World News Tonight with Peter Jennings, The CBS Evening News with Dan Rather and NBC Nightly News with Tom Brokaw, airing from 1990 through 1996.

One of every 20 stories since 1993 was about murder, including the O.J. Simpson case, which alone accounted for 1,449 stories. If it were a separate category, it would be seventh of the top 10 list of network news topics.

The study also found that the evening newscasts have softened enough to elevate entertainment coverage to ninth place between 1993 and 1996, with 868 stories on pop culture. That beat coverage of the environment (561 stories) and education (464).

Meanwhile, the broadcasts' titled features, such as ABC's "Person of the Week" and NBC's "Fleecing of America," had a heightened presence. While such features accounted for less than 1 percent of all stories in 1990, their number had soared to 9 percent in 1996.

This increase was most dramatically felt at NBC, where features made up 20 percent of the newscast in 1996, compared with 5 percent on CBS and 4 percent on ABC. This lends support to critics who in the past year have singled out NBC for softening its newscast.

These were the top 10 news topics between 1993 and 1996: crime (7,448 stories), health (4,055), economy-business (3,956), Yugoslavia-Bosnia (3,026), 1996 campaign (1,865), Russia (1,745), Israel-Palestinians (1,434), federal budget (976), entertainment (868) and Haiti (697).

The top 10 between 1990 and 1992: Gulf War (4,853), Russia (3,217), economy-business (2,717), 1992 campaign (2,427), health (1,992), crime (1,943), Israel-Palestinians (1,240), Iraq (1,015), environment (847) and South Africa (755).

The Center for Media and Public Affairs is a non-partisan, non-profit research organization.