The Annenberg Public Policy Center, a prominent Washington, D.C., think tank, recently held a roundtable discussion as a follow-up to its June report entitled Newspaper Coverage of Children’s Television: A 1997 Update. The study found that coverage of kids entertainment is neglected by the national news media.
The gathering of kids TV columnists, newspaper entertainment editors, network public relations personnel, network affiliates and entertainment trade journalists was dubbed ‘Covering Kids’ TV: What Parents and Children Need to Know About What’s On Air,’ and was funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation as part of the three-year-old Children and Television Project.
While various communication snags between studios and journalists were cited as a source of the undercoverage, in general, it was agreed that kids entertainment items take a backseat to other stories because they are perceived as less important by news organizations. Many of the editors present expressed their frustration that kids entertainment, when covered, was added to already heavy workloads, rather than full-time editors being hired to devote adequate time and attention to the subject. Also discussed was that news organizations are slow to respond to change, despite the perception that kids entertainment is of growing interest to readers. Parents, the study revealed, do not think that newspapers do a very good job of covering children’s television.
Annenberg’s study, as presented by the center’s director, Douglas Rivlin, pointed out that most newspapers don’t run the ‘E/I’ (educational/informational) designation in their TV schedule grids, and, consequently, only two percent of parents are clear about what the designations mean. Additionally, a review of 3,800 stories by TV critics in nine papers showed that on the rare occasions that kids shows were mentioned, they were described rather than reviewed. The study concluded that while, subsequent to the FCC ruling, one-third of kids shows are ‘enriching’ for kids, parents and kids were unlikely to know about quality programming due to scant publicity.
On a positive note, ancillary sources of information, such as study guides in schools and a number of informational Web sites, are tools that are being used successfully to get the message out about quality kids shows.