AN ARTICLE by Lawrence Lichty (Outlook, Nov. 22) which originally appeared in the Wilson Quarterly takes television news to task and concludes that it is "far from a dominant source of news." The article mentions Roper data that most Americans cite television as their main source of news, but Lichty claims that people merely "think they get most of their news from TV."
Against the Roper findings, Lichty cites Simmons Market Research Data. Simmons shows, he states, that 68 percent of adults read at least part of some newspaper every day.
Lichty appears to have misused Simmons data and made some flawed deductions.
He uses a double standard when he compares newspapers with television news. For television news he uses specific newscasts; for newspapers he uses "at least part of some newspaper." In other words, he counts someone in the newspaper audience if that person has seen an astrology column, a comic strip, an advertisement or even the television listings.
Simmons' own data, moreover, contradict Lichty's contention that "fewer than one- third of adults" watch local and network evening and late news. Simmons' figures show:
Late night local news on affiliated stations, 27 percent
Evening local news on affiliated stations, 31 percent
Three network evening newscasts (net), 22 percent
A special tabulation of Simmons' data shows that the unduplicated audience of the first two categories of programs is 47 percent of adults -- and that does not include audiences of the network evening newscasts or of news on independent stations.
Lichty also chides TV news because its audience is "fickle"; ". . . only 1 percent of all . . . American TV households watches CBS's Dan Rather as often as four or five nights a week . . . the notion that Rather and his rivals each command a vast, devoted nightly following seems far-fetched."
According to Nielsen data, the Rather newscast has a more loyal audience than Lichty computes. In February 1982, Nielsen reported 50 percent of all TV homes tuning in at least once, with 3.2 percent of all homes watching at least 17 of the 20 telecasts.
Even if the percentage of viewers who habitually watch a network's newscast is small, that is not a sign of failure. Viewers can and do easily switch among the three competing programs -- comparing their coverage and treatment.
The American public gets its news from a variety of sources. One Roper poll -- not commissioned by any broadcasting entity -- regularly asks adults about their use of various products and media in the past 24 hours. The latest report (August 1982) is typical and shows:
Watched news on TV, 77 percent
Read a newspaper 76, percent
Bert Briller is executive editor of the Television Information Office of the National Association of Broadcasters.
The author responds:
In my Wilson Quarterly article, the sentence which read "Fewer than one-third of all U. S. adults watch TV news, local or national, on a given day" is incorrect.
It should read, "Fewer than one-third (31 percent) of all adults view early local TV news; about 27 percent watch late evening news, and 23 percent watch one of the three major network evening news shows. Allowing for audience duplication, about 56 percent of all adults watch at least one program in one of these three categories of TV news on a given day." But, as I stated, roughly 68 percent of all adults see a daily newspaper, according to 1981 Simmons data.
Not surprisingly, my analysis drew considerable fire, accompanied by contrary audience statistics, from the TV industry. However, my essential points remain valid: (1) Americans get their news from a variety of sources; (2) newspapers, not TV, seem to remain the leading source; (3) the TV networks' evening news anchormen, e.g. CBS' Dan Rather, command a vast but fluctuating audience, with only 2 percent of U. S. adults watching Rather as often as 17 to 20 weeknights in a month.