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News Magazines Shift Toward Features, Study Shows

Time and Newsweek today are seven times more likely than they were 20 years ago to have the same cover as People, according to a new study of journalism trends.

The study, conducted by the Project for Excellence in Journalism, found that in the last two decades, the mainstream news media have shifted their coverage toward lifestyle, celebrity and entertainment reporting and away from government and foreign affairs coverage.

They have also scaled back “hard news” and emphasized a feature-style approach to stories.

From 1977 to 1997, the number of government stories dropped 38 percent, from one in three stories to one in five. At the same time, the number of stories about celebrities or entertainment tripled, from one in every 50 stories to one in 14.

On TV, prime time news magazines have all but abandoned covering government, social welfare and economics over the past 20 years. Instead, they now focus on lifestyle and consumer news, the study found.

“Part of this is there are different kinds of people in the newsroom, more women and minorities, and we’re defining what we cover more broadly. That’s probably a good thing,” Tom Rosenstiel, a former Los Angeles Times media critic, said Friday. He is director of the Project, a group aimed at getting journalists to think about their standards and public responsibilities.

Rosenstiel said he is more troubled by the shift in reporting style.

“We’re increasingly standing between the news and the audience, framing it and trying to add an interpretation,” he said. “We may be trying to make it relevant, but we may be getting in the way. We’re providing more context and less news.”

The two-part study examined 6,020 stories in 16 news outlets over 20 years. It studied Time and Newsweek covers for all of 1977, 1987 and 1997.

Newspaper information was obtained from computer databases, TV broadcasts from the Vanderbilt Archives and the news magazines were found in the Library of Congress.

All media were also examined for six weeks of content from Oct. 2 to Nov. 21, 1997.


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