A first-of-its-kind analysis by the
University of Delaware of television news broadcasts has resulted in a
model that researchers hope will enable federal regulators to assess how
well individual stations are meeting their viewers’ needs for critical
“The media serve such an important function in our democracy,” said
Allison Becker, who earned her master’s degree in public policy at UD in
2015. “It’s the entity that connects us to our officials, to what’s
being done in Washington and to all the policy issues that matter to us
“But the question is: Are we really becoming informed? The model we developed is a tool to help answer that.”
Becker led the effort to gather data and wrote the report, Citizens’ Critical Information Needs and Local TV News, with Danilo Yanich, associate professor in UD’s School of Public Policy and Administration and a policy scientist with the school’s Center for Community Research and Service (CCRS).
The report was published by CCRS last year, and Becker and Yanich met
with Federal Communications Commission (FCC) staff members in late November to
present their findings. The model they developed will assist the FCC as
it evaluates the performance of television stations in supplying
important information, Yanich said.
“This is critically important, as the FCC will have to make decisions
— as required by law — regarding market structure and consolidation
[when stations merge],” he said. “The model we presented offers them a
way to look at a particular aspect of the stations’ performance,
particularly as it affects the public interest.”
The presentation and discussion of the model at the FCC “highlighted
the important policy research” conducted by the CCRS and its research on
local TV news broadcasts, Yanich said.
The FCC is responsible for ensuring that broadcast media serve the
public interest, and it reviews television stations’ performance as part
of its process of examining ownership agreements. It oversees such
decisions as whether stations should be allowed to consolidate or to
operate cooperatively under what are called “joint service agreements.”
Becker, who said she felt that their presentation was well received
by the agency, noted that the UD-developed model does not argue for
regulators to decide in any particular way in individual cases or in
general broadcasting issues.
“We made an academic presentation at the FCC,” she said. “Our model
does not make a judgment about what the FCC should do about the media
landscape as a whole. Instead, it gives them a tool that we think will
be useful in evaluating how stations are meeting citizens’ needs for
The model could be used in cases where the FCC is deciding if a joint
service agreement between two stations is serving its stated purpose of
providing two independent news sources to viewers in the area, or if
both stations are actually covering the same stories with the same
reporters and perspectives.
Becker said she also thinks it could be used to examine markets where
viewers have access to news broadcasts in English and also in another
language, such as Spanish, to determine if both groups of viewers are
being given critical information.
“I think this model provides a great way to evaluate other news
media, too, such as radio, the Internet and newspapers,” she said.
“There’s a vast array of directions that this research could take, and
that’s one reason I’m so excited about it.”
The UD research looked at a sample of news broadcasts in a market
selected by the FCC for the study, Columbia, South Carolina, during
November and December 2013.
Researchers categorized news stories according to eight areas that a
previous report for the FCC had identified as critical information for
viewers: emergencies and public safety, health, education,
transportation systems, economic opportunities, environment and
planning, civic participation, and political life.
Yanich and Becker are continuing to pursue funding to extend the
research and to test out the model in different cities and different
times. With the recent increase in media consolidations throughout the
United States, it’s especially important to evaluate how well citizens
are being informed by their local stations, Yanich said.
“As far as we know, this is the only research that has taken the
study of CINs [critical information needs] to this extent,” he said. He
called the new study a logical extension of his previous research on political advertising and television news coverage.