Research Finds Broadcast Editorials Continue to Wane

By Spiceland, David | The Masthead, Winter 1994 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Research Finds Broadcast Editorials Continue to Wane


Spiceland, David, The Masthead


GROWING UP IN DETROIT, I became accustomed to television editorials. I didn't always understand what they were saying, and I remember my mother once turned off the TV during a commentary program because it was "controversial." No sex or violence . . . just controversy.

When I left the Motor City to attend college in Tennessee, I was surprised at the dearth of television editorials.

Eventually I worked at a few radio and television stations as a reporter and sometimes as a disc jockey. Years later I decided to teach and entered a graduate program. For my dissertation I returned to an old topic. I knew that fewer stations were editorializing, and I linked that issue with the Fairness Doctrine. I reasoned that editorials were an outgrowth of a station's policy to engage in controversial programming.

Although television editorializing increased in the 1960s, it became clear through the 1980s that the trend was receding. Fewer editorials and more editorial writers being handed pink slips marked a disturbing trend to some. Over the past 40 years a number of television stations have discontinued the practice of editorializing.

At one time estimates indicated that more than half of all television stations were editorializing. My research appears to confirm that fewer television stations are editorializing -- and for some surprising reasons.

History of television editorializing

Coming up with an exact number of stations that have editorialized over the past 40 years is difficult. Various studies conducted throughout the 1960s and 1970s placed the number of television stations editorializing in the neighborhood of 50% to 75%.

Most of the research suggested an increase in editorializing by television stations from the early 1960s through about 1975. It also appears that broadcast editorializing dramatically increased after Newton Minow became commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission in 1961. Minow, appointed by President Kennedy to head the FCC, became an activist who is best known for his "vast wasteland" speech to broadcasters in 1961.

Previous studies have cited several factors that best distinguish television stations that editorialize.

1.) Television stations with larger staffs tend to editorialize more.

2.) VHF stations tend to editorialize more than UHF stations. This is probably because VHF stations tend to have larger audiences, are usually network affiliated, and have greater financial resources available.

3.) Television stations in Top 50 markets appear to editorialize more, possibly because those stations have increased resources and are better staffed.

4.) The larger its news staff, the more likely a station is to editorialize.

5.) The ownership position of the station and the position of station management can determine editorial policy.

6.) Network affiliation appears to be important. Although in previous studies not much difference appeared between network affiliates, CBS affiliates did tend to editorialize more and NBC affiliates were the least likely to editorialize among the traditional three networks.

Not surprisingly, independent stations tended not to editorialize. This was probably because they had less revenue and a modest news effort.

7.) The geographical region of the country appears to be an important indicator of a station's editorializing commitment. A greater percentage of stations in the East tend to editorialize.

1992 survey

For my dissertation I surveyed United States commercial television stations with network affiliation. In early 1992, surveys were sent to all 694 commercial stations in the U.S. affiliated with one of the four major networks: ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC. Television station managers were asked a variety of questions about the Fairness Doctrine and the extent of editorializing at their station.

Survey questions focused on several areas.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Research Finds Broadcast Editorials Continue to Wane
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?