TV: Local news coverage getting more emphasis

The TV viewer's appetite for news - especially local coverage - seems to be growing. Network-affiliated TV stations have been beefing up their own local coverage - even though they also carry regular network newscasts. A study of figures from A.C. Neilsen, the TV ratings company, shows that twice as many affiliates have increased their local news programming as decreased it. A reported 249 now air one hour or more of local news between 4 and 7 p.m. - up from 236 a little over a year ago.

The analysis - done by Steven Miller of the Television Information Office, a TV industry group - shows that 37 affiliates have increased the amount of local news they broadcast and that only 18 have reduced the amount. Nineteen of the stations actually doubled local news programming.

Later studies will include independent stations, but meanwhile the largest number of affiliates - 373 - carry 30 minutes of local news, while 209 air an hour of it, 23 offer 90 minutes, and 14 stations air a whopping two hours nightly.

Although Mr. Miller says he has no hard figures to prove it, he thinks this growth is part of a trend. ``You notice the one-hour increases from '86 to '87 were 13 stations - that's quite a lot,'' he said by phone from New York. ``In one case a station that had no local news before all of a sudden carried one hour of it.''

Miller thinks part of the news growth may be due to the decrease in local newspapers around the country. ``A lot of [TV] markets that used to have two or more newspapers no longer have that many,'' he notes.

This is especially true of afternoon papers, which used to be read during the 4-to-7 p.m. period. ``You see more morning newspapers now,'' Miller says. But in the afternoon and evening, people tend to watch TV for news.

Another reason for the growth in TV news: satellites. According to Miller, they permit a broader and more varied local coverage than was possible in the past. ``Before, it [this kind of coverage] was mainly a function of the networks.''

``Also, news is the major function of many stations,'' Miller points out. ``It's probably the biggest - or one of the biggest - moneymaker for a lot of them.''

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