Why Change the Channel?

Network News is All the Same, Cable Networks Are More Distinct





In spite of their general criticisms of the media, Americans have good things to say about the major broadcast and cable news networks. The public draws few distinctions among the news divisions of the big three broadcast networks. There is much less consensus about the major cable news networks. Nearly half of the public sees real differences among CNN, the Fox News Channel and MSNBC, but four-in ten say the cable news outlets are all pretty much the same. National Public Radio is less well known to the public, but receives generally positive evaluations from those who can rate it.





When asked to name the one word that best describes their impression of six major news organizations, “good” is the word that comes to mind most often for each one. Beyond that, the big three broadcast networks – ABC, CBS and NBC – are most often described as “OK.” Other top descriptors for the networks include “biased,” “liberal” and “informative.”


CNN is the most recognizable news network among the six tested in the poll. Roughly 80% of respondents were able to come up with a word to describe CNN. After “good,” the most frequently used word was “informative.” The words “liberal,” “news” and “great” also made CNN’s top six list.




The Fox News cable channel is the only outlet for which “conservative” and “Republican” were mentioned. Other descriptions of Fox included “excellent,” “OK,” “biased,” and “like it.”


The top words used to describe NPR included “excellent,” and “informative.” “Liberal” was mentioned about as often in describing NPR as it was for CNN and the major broadcast networks, though “biased” was mentioned less often for NPR.


Cable Audiences Make Deliberate Choices


In general, the public sees few differences among the three broadcast networks. Fully 74% say ABC News, CBS News and NBC News are all pretty much the same. Only 18% say there are real differences between the three. But impressions of the three major cable news networks differ substantially. While 40% of the public says CNN, the Fox News cable channel and MSNBC are pretty much the same, 48% see real differences among the three.




The feeling that the three broadcast networks are all pretty much the same is shared by network and cable news viewers alike. When it comes to evaluations of the cable news networks, however, cable viewers themselves are among the most likely to draw distinctions among the three major outlets. Among regular viewers of CNN, Fox and MSNBC, roughly 60% say that real differences separate the cable news networks. This compares with 48% of the general public and 44% of regular viewers of the big three broadcast networks.


In addition, views of the cable networks differ sharply by education and partisanship. College graduates are much more likely than non-college graduates to see real differences between CNN, Fox and MSNBC. And Republicans are more likely than Democrats to see differences. Among Republicans, 57% say there are real differences among the three major cable news networks; only 33% say the cable networks are all the same. Democrats are evenly split on this issue: 45% say there are real differences, 46% say the cable networks are all the same.


These findings are based on the most recent installment of the weekly News Interest Index, an ongoing project of the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press. The index, building on the Center’s longstanding research into public attentiveness to major news stories, examines news interest as it relates to the news media’s agenda. The weekly survey is conducted in conjunction with The Project for Excellence in Journalism’s News Coverage Index, which monitors the news reported by major newspaper, television, radio and online news outlets on an ongoing basis.


Read the full report at people-press.org

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