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The Best Local TV News: KWQC Is Still King, but Surprising WHBF Is an Underdog Worth Watching PDF Print E-mail
News/Features - Media
Written by Jeff Ignatius   
Thursday, 28 October 2010 05:21

Most of us like to root for an underdog, so here’s a story that our local television news stations should eat up.

When the River Cities’ Reader analyzed Quad Cities newscasts for four days earlier this month, there was one major surprise: The fourth-place local station at 10 p.m. – CBS affiliate WHBF, whose newscast has gotten trounced in the ratings by a syndication sitcom on Fox 18 – might just have the best local television news in the Quad Cities.

In just about every objective and subjective measure, WHBF’s late-night newscast beats or presents a strong challenge to established power KWQC, the local NBC affiliate.

That hints at two other minor surprises from our recent sampling. First, KWQC – despite its decades-long dominance of the Quad Cities news market – doesn’t appear to be taking its position for granted.

Second, ABC affiliate WQAD is stunningly weak in local news despite making several high-profile strategic moves over the past 18 months – landing former KWQC personalities Terry Swails and Chris Williams, and taking over the news operation of Fox affiliate KLJB. (For a 2009 article on Swails’ arrival at WQAD, go to RCReader.com/y/wqad.)

The title of local-news champ is close. KWQC had the most local and state news in time terms (by almost three minutes over four days) and the most local/state-news on-camera interviews, but WHBF devoted a greater percentage of its newscast to local news and – by a wide margin – had the most local/state stories. Beyond those objective measures, it looked to these eyes that WHBF’s news operation is generally better at providing relevant context.

Overall, KWQC is undoubtedly more polished, although that also makes it a little more boring. One cannot imagine somnolent KWQC sports anchor Thom Cornelis interjecting the exclamation “The Rangers!” into an anchor’s unrelated-to-sports teaser the way WHBF’s Jay Kidwell did on October 12. It was an embarrassing mistake, but it was also kinda charming. So in addition to breathing down the neck of KWQC with local and state news, WHBF has that on it side.

The split decision for the title of best local news goes to KWQC in this bout, but upstart WHBF looks hungry, and it made an impressive showing.

Local News by the Numbers

Quad Cities TV news by the numbers. Click for a larger version.KWQC remains the formidable force in Quad Cities news in terms of viewership, with a Nielsen rating in February 2010 of 11.3 (and a share of 37 percent of television sets in use) for its 10 p.m. newscast among people 25 to 54. WQAD was second with a rating of 6.9 (and a share of 23 percent), and WHBF was third among newscasts with a rating of 0.5 (and a share of 2 percent). For perspective, more than twice as many people watched The Office at 10 p.m. on KJLB as watched WHBF’s news broadcast during the ratings period.

KLJB’s 9 p.m. newscast in February had a rating of 3.1 (and a share of 8 percent). But that was before WQAD began producing that station’s newscast in September.

In terms of number of viewers, KWQC was tops in February, with WQAD second, KLJB third, and WHBF fourth. It’s worth noting that it would require a major viewer shift to change that order.

The Reader’s analysis covered four nighttime newscasts each from the four local stations, from Monday, October 11, through Thursday, October 14. A fuller explanation of the methodology can be found here, but basically I timed each story and slotted it into one of five categories: local/state news, national/international news, entertainment/soft news, weather, and sports. (Last fall, the Reader did a content analysis of the Quad-City Times and the Rock Island Argus/Moline Dispatch that can be found at RCReader.com/y/newspapers.)

The sampled week was relatively slow for news in the Quad Cities, so there wasn’t much of an opportunity to compare and contrast coverage of major events, as there was no natural local lead story any of the nights. The week’s biggest story was the rescue of the Chilean miners. The weather was unseasonably warm but otherwise downright dull, with only a slight chance of rain one night.

Still, the patterns that emerged are instructive.

• KWQC had the largest amount of newscast content each night (between 22 and 24 minutes), followed by WHBF (roughly 20 minutes), WQAD (19 to 20 minutes), and KLJB (roughly 16 minutes).

• KWQC devoted roughly 10 minutes of its newscast each night to local and state news, with the exception of Tuesday – when the first Chilean miner was being brought up and the local news was just more than six and a half minutes.

• Three days out of four, WHBF devoted between nine and 10 minutes to local and state news. (The fourth day was less.)

• Three days out of four, WQAD aired between six and seven minutes of local and state news. (Again, the fourth day was less.)

• And three days out of four, KLJB gave viewers between five and six minutes of local and state news. (And the fourth day was less.)

• Over four days, KWQC had the most local and state news (37 minutes, 26 seconds) followed by WHBF (34 minutes, 40 seconds), WQAD (25 minutes, 29 seconds), and KLJB (19 minutes, 55 seconds).

• WHBF devoted the largest percentage of its newscast to state and local news (43 percent), followed by KWQC (41 percent), WQAD (33 percent), and KLJB (31 percent).

• WHBF ran the largest number of local and state stories over four days (55), followed by the cluster of KWQC (34), WQAD (32), and KLJB (29).

• KWQC had more on-camera interviews (43) for its local and state news over the four days, followed closely by WHBF (41) – with WQAD (25) and KLJB (14) far behind.

• Weather hogged the newscasts of KLJB (29 percent) and WQAD (21 percent) compared to WHBF (17 percent) and KWQC (12 percent).

• WHBF spent the greatest percentage of its newscast on sports (22 percent) compared to WQAD (19 percent), KWQC (17 percent), and KLJB (14 percent).

• Both KWQC and WHBF devoted less than 5 percent of their newscasts to “soft” news and features, with KLJB at 11 percent and WQAD at 17 percent.