WASHINGTON: The all-terrorism, all-the-time network news format adopted after September 11 has been almost completely abandoned in favor of a return to "soft news, according to a study released last week by the Project for Excellence in Journalism.
Celebrity and lifestyle coverage were eliminated in the immediate aftermath of the attacks, and made only gradual returns through the fall - a comeback often stunted by military action, the anthrax crisis, or warnings of more terrorism. But eight months later, soft news once again makes up about 20% of evening news broadcasts. That number is similar to percentages recorded last summer.
Morning news shows are returning to their old formats more reluctantly, according to the study. Their coverage of "hard news has dropped by more than half, but they are still giving more attention to such stories than they previously had.
All of this means that PR professionals, most of whom found themselves unable to break through the terrorism gridlock in the last quarter of 2001, are looking at greater opportunities for placing stories on broadcast news.
But for public affairs professionals or those trying to pitch news with a harder edge, the study's findings are more ambivalent.
"Studies have shown that the public affairs business has survived the past nine months better than many communications disciplines, said Doug Pinkham, president of the Public Affairs Council. "Yet the nation's focus on terrorism hasn't made anyone want to discuss 'hard' news issues other than national security."
The problem for public affairs professionals, Pinkham explained, is that the networks' hard-news coverage is still dominated by terrorism and national security, leaving little room for other serious issues. The good news for the public affairs sector will arrive when networks offer more variety in their hard news, he said.