One theory explaining KSL’s news ratings decline suggests the station’s emphasis on Mormon news has hurt. That theory doesn’t hold up in a recent five-day analysis of late-night newscasts. In the Feb. 18-22 analysis period, KSL reported on two stories directly related to its owner, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the same number of stories about the church aired by two of its three competitors.
There was no marked difference in the way KSL, KUTV or KSTU handled the story of a former LDS missionary charged with rape. (KTVX did not cover the story.) Nor was there much difference in the way the four stations handled the story of the church increasing the number of missions.
Newscast analysis: Who’s airing what?
Salt Lake Tribune television critic Scott D. Pierce analyzed five nights of newscasts (Feb. 18-22) on four Utah TV stations: the 10 p.m. news on KUTV-Channel 2, KTVX-Channel 4 and KSL-Channel 5, and the 9 p.m. newscast on KSTU-Channel 13. The block of days was selected randomly within the recent ratings period, which ended Feb. 27. Weather and sports segments weren’t included unless specifically noted.
Channel 13 (KSTU) had two LDS-related stories not reported on the other newcasts: one about a gay BYU student coming out and another about an LDS stake president delivering a political address from the pulpit.
The most pronounced pandering to LDS viewers was on Channel 13. As Zach Whitney reported on the expansion of LDS missions from 347 to 405, he offered a "little bit of LDS culture," telling viewers of a "competition for the best mission."
"It’s the Argentina Mendoza Mission," Whitney said, "where I served."
Attitude adjustment » Looking at the numbers, KSL doesn’t appear significantly different from its competitors.
In its marketing and promotional materials, KSL emphasizes upbeat, feel-good stories, but its newscasts weren’t markedly different from its competitors. Channel 13 aired eight feel-good stories; Channel 4 (KTVX) reported seven; Channel 2 (KUTV) did six; Channel 5 (KSL) did five.
(Note that Channel 13 airs hourlong late newscasts; the other stations’ newscasts are 35 minutes.)
But there’s more to the story than the numbers.
The difference between KSL and its competitors is in the attitude — an attitude summed up in a promo in which morning anchorman Scott Haws proclaims the goal is to "bring you stories that matter" with a focus on "their impact for your family."
That means stories such as a segment on a family whose children suffer from a rare disease are presented as tales of "faith, hope and good cheer," reporter Carole Mikita said.
"Wow, what a family," anchorwoman Nadine Wimmer said.
"Count your blessings," anchorman Mike Headrick added.
Beyond the in-house advertising, even in news stories that aren’t overtly Mormon, reporters include multiple references to faith and blessings.
Another Mikita piece, about a boy with muscular dystrophy, is about "his remarkable journey and his family’s faith," which have "inspired thousands."
KSL anchors make a clear attempt to connect with viewers on that level, with regular comments such as "parents need to be aware of what’s going on" and "all parents can learn from this mother."
KSL reporters don’t just tell viewers about a fatal accident, they report on an "awful, awful accident." They don’t just show you a barn full of starving horses, they tell you: "These pictures are hard to look at." A report on graffiti is accompanied by "maybe we can all help clean this up." A report on vandalism is accompanied by "there ought to be a law."
KSL asks for responses on Facebook ("What are you addicted to?"), and anchors read those responses on air.Next Page >
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