Evaluating print and broadcast news in the San Francisco Bay Area from A to F.

About Grade the News

 

What we're doing
Our mission
The problem -- market-driven journalism
One solution -- citizen watchdogs
History of the project

 

What we're doing

Grade the News is a media research project focusing on the quality of the news media in the San Francisco Bay Area. We are based at San Jose State University's School of Journalism and Mass Communications and affiliated with Stanford University’s Graduate Program in Journalism.

We aim to provide timely critiques and in-depth, systematic analyses that allow the public to compare newspapers and local television news broadcasts on equal footing. Think of us as a kind of Consumer Reports for news.

Our signature service is a periodic survey of thousands of local print and broadcast stories. For each story, we determine the newsworthiness, number and expertise of sources, thematic approach, number of people affected, fairness and other traits. The end product is a letter grade for the newsroom -- anywhere from A to F.

Currently, we grade the most popular local news media -- three newspapers and five television news broadcasts. These are: the San Francisco Chronicle, the San Jose Mercury News, the Contra Costa Times, KTVU Channel 2, KRON Channel 4, KPIX Channel 5, KGO Channel 7 and KNTV Channel 11.

We also monitor and occasionally write about a variety of other Bay Area print and broadcast outlets that provide daily news.

Our mission is to:

help Bay Area residents recognize their dependence on news -- democracy’s most essential commodity,
assess news organizations’ success in meeting those ends, and
secure quality news across the region’s diverse communities.

The problem -- market-driven journalism

In the past two decades, business values -- essentially market values -- have become more prominent in newsrooms, which have increasingly become owned by large corporations.

Subtly but surely, market values are redefining news. Journalism’s ideal of maximizing public understanding of important current events and issues is eroding, in favor of the commercial goal of maximizing return to owners.

This economic rationalization has gone further in some news organizations than in others. It is most evident in the medium more Americans turn to for news than any other -- local television. But is spreading among newspapers as well.

As a result, society is steadily losing access to the information necessary for self-government.

One solution -- change marketplace demand

If one of the markets shaping the news is for readers and viewers, the public has a chance to influence the quality of the news it receives. If newspapers and TV stations in the Bay Area were to gain or lose audience because local residents could readily distinguish quality and insist on it, there would be a financial incentive to upgrade the news.

Our job is to acquaint Bay Area citizens with what they should be able to expect from the news and alert them to differences in quality that may be difficult to evaluate if they don't have the time to really study the news.

We have no political ax to grind, although we do have a bias -- that the primary purpose of journalism is to maximize public understanding of current issues and events, not maximize return to owners.

For more information, see our guide to distinguishing between junk and socially responsible journalism.

History of the project

Grade the News began as a Web site sponsored by KTEH, San Jose’s public television station, and was funded by a generous grant from the Wallace Alexander Gerbode Foundation in January 2000.

Based in a home office its first year, the site generated up to 60,000 visits per month.

The grading project started with a sample that evaluated more than 1,000 news stories. We chose to rate channels 2, 4, 5, 7 and the San Francisco Chronicle, San Jose Mercury News and the Contra Costa Times because they were the Bay Area’s most popular broadcast and print news media.

Editors and reporters began to discuss Grade the News critiques in newsrooms around the bay. There were also changes in news content. For example, after a Grade the News critique, the Times began to label a real-estate section written by developers as advertising.

In 2001, Grade the News secured a continuation grant from the Gerbode Foundation allowing part-time staffing. The project released a “report card” based on more than 2,200 stories grading the seven news providers.

In 2002, with financial support exhausted, the Web site was updated less frequently. It added the new NBC affiliate, KNTV in San Jose, to its purview.

In January 2003, Grade the News gained substantial support from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the Ford Foundation. It was also invited to Stanford University by Professor Theodore L. Glasser and the faculty of the Graduate Program in Journalism.

In June 2005 Grade the News relocated to San Jose State University, and received an additional grant from the Gerbode Foundation. In August, the project received a second grant from the Ford Foundation.

Stanford University and KTEH remain affiliated with the project as part of a coalition of natural allies of quality journalism in the Bay Area.

The project would have been impossible without the vision of Thomas Fanella, president of KTEH; Gary Martinez, then KTEH grants associate; Danny McGuire, now executive producer at KQED; Thomas Layton, executive director of the Gerbode Foundation; Eric Newton, director of journalism projects at the Knight Foundation; and Jon Funabiki, deputy director of the Media, Arts and Culture Unit at the Ford Foundation. And Grade the News benefits greatly from the guidance and assistance of Professor Glasser at Stanford. Diana Stover, a journalism professor at San Jose State, was instrumental in connecting the project with the journalism program there.

What do you think? Discuss it in The Coffeehouse.

WEEKLY UPDATES

More...
A project of the School of Journalism and Mass Communications at San Jose State University, Grade the News is affiliated with the Graduate Program in Journalism at Stanford University and KTEH, public television in Silicon Valley.

Monitoring the Bay Area's most popular news media:

Contra Costa Times

Knight Ridder

San Francisco Chronicle

Hearst

San Jose Mercury News

Knight Ridder

KTVU, Oakland (FOX)

KTVU, Oakland (FOX)

KRON, San Francisco

KRON, San Francisco

KPIX, San Francisco (CBS)

KPIX, San Francisco (CBS)

KGO, San Francisco (ABC)

KGO, San Francisco (ABC)

KNTV, San Jose (NBC)

KNTV, San Jose (NBC)

 

Bay Area media advocates:

Media Alliance
Center for the Integration and Improvement of Journalism at SFSU
Maynard Institute
Youth Media Council
Project Censored
New California Media
Society of Professional Journalists, Northern California chapter
National Writers Union Bay Area chapter

Site highlights

THE GROWTH OF FREE NEWSPAPERS

The three-part series follows the rise of three Bay Area handouts:
• Part 1: At free dailies, advertisers sometimes call the shots
• Part 2: Free daily papers: more local but often superficial
• Part 3: Free papers' growth threatens traditional news
• See also: SF Examiner and Independent agree to end payola restaurant reviews
• And: The free tabloid that wasn't: East Bay's aborted Daily Flash

FATE OF KNIGHT RIDDER NEWSPAPERS

Lou Alexander started a firestorm with his original guest commentary predicting the company would be sold. Several other experts on newspapers have weighed in:
Newspapers can't cut their way back into Wall Street investors' hearts, by Stephen R. Lacy; Alexander responds
Humbler profits won't encourage buyouts, by John Morton; Alexander responds
Newspapers can't maintain monopoly profits because they've lost their monopolies, by Philip Meyer
Knight Ridder in grave jeopardy, by Lou Alexander...

KQED-FM AUDIO PERSPECTIVES BY JOHN MCMANUS

Leakers and plumbers: There's no difference between a good leak and a bad leak? Journalists need a shield law. 11/22/05
Unintended consequences: How Craigslist and similar services are sucking revenue from faltering newspapers. 9/13/05
Is CPB irrelevant? As Congress moves to cut public broadcasting funds, has CPB become obsolete in the modern marketplace. 6/26/05
The paradox of news: There's more news available and its cheaper than ever before, but fewer young people are interested. 5/12/05

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Most recent updatesHow the Bay Area's most popular media stack up.Talk about Bay Area journalism in our on-line discussion forum. A printable news scorecard you can use at home or in school. Raves and rants aimed at the local media. What would you do if you were the editor? Upcoming happenings and calls for public action. Let 'em know! Contact a local newsroom.Codes of ethics, local media advocates and journalism tools. Tip us off about the local media, or tell us how we're doing.Oops.A comprehensive list of past GTN exclusives.