WGAE releases quality report

The Writers Guild of America East — embroiled in long-stalled contract disputes with ABC and CBS — has released a report showing the quality of broadcast news is on the decline, according to a survey of 184 of its members.

The report, titled “Broadcast Newswriters Speak About News Quality,” also asserted that the decline will continue, driven by continual reduction in newsroom staff.

“The declining quality of news is staggering and disturbing,” said WGA East president Chris Albers in a statement. “This paper details what our members have been telling us for a long time — that corporate pressures to cut costs are negatively impacting their ability to bring the public objective, high-quality news.”

Albers also said issues of news quality have been a major factor in why the WGA East has been unable to sign deals with ABC and CBS — both of which saw contracts expire in 2005. “We will not enter into a new contract that allows the companies to cut more people from our union, consolidate newsrooms in markets to result in even more job losses and that doesn’t properly respect the contribution of our members,” he added.

Key points in the report:

  • Recycling of news is becoming more commonplace.

n Increased job responsibilities have made research and fact-checking low-priority tasks.

  • A shift is under way from hard news to more lifestyle and entertainment news.

The networks were not immediately available for comment about the report. CBS went directly to the employees last fall with a final offer that featured 3% annual increases in TV and network radio and 2% in local radio; 99% of the employees voted it down.

The paper’s authors include WGA East staffer Ann Toback and Karen Young and WGA East Council member Michael Winship, who’s running for president against Tom Phillips to succeed Albers.

Its recommendations include that the FCC hold public hearings about localism and broadcast news quality in top U.S. markets.

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