RTNDA Focus Group Sounds Off on News Media, Coverage

You are about to peer into the hearts and minds of news consumers at a recent focus group sponsored by the Radio and Television News Directors Association (RTNDA).

"Teach me something," one group member implored at the Sept. 11 session. Others wanted to "find out what is going on," not just see stories on popular culture or curiosities.

My hope is that journalists will consider playing these video highlights at morning news meetings and that educators will use the material to teach students about audience reaction. News executives might consider showing the comments at department head meetings. They are that useful.

Lynn French of KPNX-TV and I hosted the focus group of Kansas City-area news consumers. It was the 27th focus group organized around the country in 10 years. The session was a joint production of the RTNDA and the Radio Television and News Directors Foundation (RTNDF), the group's educational arm.

Last week's discussion revealed the strong opinions that some news consumers have about the media and coverage. 

Focus group members lamented the decline of investigative reporting. Some also said they believe that advertisers, politicians and sports teams can and do influence news coverage.

Members said they were sick of hyped headlines, clever writing and content that they already know. As we often hear, news consumers said that newscasts and newspapers are "too negative."

Some aggressively search for news online. Some often (and I mean often) find inconsistencies and inaccuracies in coverage. Members said they surf from source to source to find areas of agreement on "facts" to determine what really happened.

Five clips from the evening
showed the focus group discussing investigative reporting, commercial pressures and how to earn the public's trust. Members also offered feedback on a specific story we showed them on homelessness and children. We also asked for their best advice on how to improve news coverage.

RTNDA Chairman Stacey Woelfel shared his conclusions
on what he heard and saw during the forum. Woelfel identified 10 things that the public hated about journalism practices.

The focus group also reacted to last week's Potomac "scare."
CNN erroneously reported that a Coast Guard training exercise in the Potomac River was an actual event. The live broadcast took place just hours before the focus group met.

Freelance reporter Rebecca Fox discussed what she learned from the RTNDA session.

Disclosure: RTNDF paid Tompkins to moderate the town hall meeting and the Saturday ethics discussion. The underwriter for the event was the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation.

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    Al Tompkins

    Al Tompkins is The Poynter Institute’s senior faculty for broadcasting and online. He has taught thousands of journalists, journalism students and educators in newsrooms around the world.


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