Sep 1 2006

Live vs. Taped Sources

[Note: This piece is a sidebar to “Are You on the NewsHour’s Guestlist?”]

When FAIR published its 1990 study, the NewsHour criticized it for not including taped sources; then-executive producer Lester Crystal argued (Broadcasting, 5/28/90) that taped segments “are a significant part of the program and have included much of the diversity [FAIR] refers to”—suggesting that including taped appearances would show the program to be more diverse than our study of the live segments indicated.

It’s worth noting that taped sources are frequently short soundbites, whereas live sources often get an extended opportunity to make various points and develop an argument or analysis. While looking at overall sources gives a more complete picture of the types and diversity of voices featured on the NewsHour, looking strictly at live sources can also reveal which voices are considered by the NewsHour to deserve a larger platform.

FAIR’s current study, which includes all sources, shows that while there are some striking statistical differences between live and taped sources, the NewsHour’s taped sources as a whole are not markedly more diverse; indeed, by some measures, they are less diverse than live sources.

The taped segments included many more current and former government officials, including military (56 percent taped vs. 28 percent live); many of these consisted of brief soundbites from press conferences or other political events. Taped segments featured a much smaller percentage of journalists (4 percent vs. 27 percent), academics (4 percent vs. 20 percent) and think tanks (3 percent vs. 14 percent), while corporate sources were slightly more common on taped segments (6 percent vs. 4 percent).

Taped segments do often include brief soundbites from members of the general public, a category that does not exist in live segments, where all guests were “experts” of some sort. These “general public” interviews comprised 18 percent of taped sources and 14 percent of all sources. But including taped segments actually decreases the NewsHour’s public interest voices, who make up 5 percent of live guests and only 3 percent of taped guests.

Taped segments also have an even starker partisan imbalance (69 percent of taped partisan guests are Republican, vs. 57 percent among live guests). Gender imbalance is about the same among taped and live sources (82 percent vs. 81 percent male), while taped sources have slightly more racial diversity (85 percent vs. 89 percent white).

Please see the other sidebars to “Are You on the NewsHour’s Guestlist?”: “FAIR’s Original 1990 NewsHour Study” and “Brooks and Shields”.