Less Clutter Better for Newscasts, Study Says

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), April 29, 2005 | Go to article overview

Less Clutter Better for Newscasts, Study Says


Byline: Jennifer Harper, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Television newscasts have become showcases for visual effects in recent years - crammed with sports scores, blinking icons, logos, split screens and whirling letters.

But networks may be in for a surprise. All that garish blinking and whirling may prove a distraction for viewers hard-pressed to cut through the clutter to find the content, according to a study released yesterday by Kansas State University.

"Our conclusion has been that if you want people to understand the news better, then get that stuff off the screen," said Tom Grimes, who conducted the study in conjunction with NewsLab, a Washington-based research group. "Clean it up and get it off because it is simply making it more difficult for people to understand what the anchor is saying."

The three-year study analyzed the viewers' ability to tease out the news amid on-screen distractions. "We discovered that when you have all of this stuff on the screen, people tend to remember about 10 percent fewer facts than when you don't have it on the screen," he said.

"Everything - the crawls, the anchorperson, sports scores, weather forecast - are conflicting bits of information that don't hang together semantically. They make it more difficult to attend to what is the central message," he said.

Every network is guilty, however. Far removed from the single, grave anchorman, both cable and broadcast news feature as many as 10 simultaneous visuals on-screen. Correspondents often are lost in the chaos.

Mr. Grimes and his colleagues theorized that news producers hoped to glean extra ratings by introducing MTV music video-style pizazz to the newscasts.

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