Dinner-Hour Network News Loses Its Pull on the American TV Viewers

Twenty years ago, families gathered round their living room television and turned to their favorite news anchor to track the day's happenings in Vietnam or Selma, Ala.

Today, during that same 6 to 7 p.m. hour, Mom and Dad are tuning into the radio on their commute home, Bill is giggling over a Simpson's rerun, and Sarah is more often than not surfing the Internet.

The profoundly different face and pace of American families is contributing to a shift in how the nation gathers its news.

A study by the Pew Center for the People and the Press released this weekend shows a dip in the number of Americans viewing TV news: Only 42 percent regularly watch dinner-hour network news now compared with 60 percent three years ago.

Even as TV news options have expanded, more viewers are tuning out. Only 59 percent of those polled watch any TV news, compared with 74 percent in '94.

"The drop-off of TV viewing - of all age groups - is a remarkable phenomenon," says John Pavlik of The Center for New Media at Columbia University in New York.

Competition is, in part, the culprit, say media watchers. The public now spends its time playing video games, watching cable TV, and learning from CD-ROMs rather than turning to one of the three networks for information and entertainment.

But the new media forms also offer something Peter Jennings can't - 24-hour access and an ability to customize the news. "Today, it's perfectly natural to get information when you want it and in the form you want it," Dr. Pavlik says.

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