TV Takes Charm out of Countryside; News Stories Focus on Harvest of Crime, Not Agriculture

Article excerpt

Byline: Jennifer Harper, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

The halcyon countryside is no more, at least on television.

Images of pastoral splendor and homespun Americana have been replaced by crime scenes in three out of four network TV news stories on rural life, according to the Center for Media and Public Affairs (CMPA).

A new analysis finds 78 percent of the stories focused on crime rather than agriculture or even lifestyle.

Currier and Ives impressions of country living have all but disappeared. Of the 337 news stories studied, only one in 12 characterized rural America as "quaint," and only one in six tied rural life with farming or agriculture.

"In television, rural America is what lies between Los Angeles and New York," said CMPA Director Robert Lichter. "It is both geographically and ideologically distant, and provides no convenient story line."

TV sensationalism prevails. Broadcasters take note when there are OxyContin addicts in the Kentucky hills or serial bombers loose down in the valley.

"Rural America becomes newsworthy when it contradicts typical impressions about the country life, when the unusual counters traditional thinking," Mr. Lichter said. "Who equates crime with the country?"

Indeed, 84 percent of Americans have nothing but positive impressions of country folk, according to "Perceptions of Rural Life," an analysis of life beyond the city limits from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. The Michigan-based philanthropic group also sponsored the CMPA study.

While TV news is rife with country crimes, the study found that print reports focus differently.

The passage of the farm bill was featured in 40 percent of rural stories in the New York Times, The Washington Post and USA Today. Battles over urban encroachment on country land were featured in 29 percent of the stories. …