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TV: Local news coverage getting more emphasis

The TV viewer's appetite for news - especially local coverage - seems to be growing. Network-affiliated TV stations have been beefing up their own local coverage - even though they also carry regular network newscasts. A study of figures from A.C. Neilsen, the TV ratings company, shows that twice as many affiliates have increased their local news programming as decreased it. A reported 249 now air one hour or more of local news between 4 and 7 p.m. - up from 236 a little over a year ago.

The analysis - done by Steven Miller of the Television Information Office, a TV industry group - shows that 37 affiliates have increased the amount of local news they broadcast and that only 18 have reduced the amount. Nineteen of the stations actually doubled local news programming.

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Later studies will include independent stations, but meanwhile the largest number of affiliates - 373 - carry 30 minutes of local news, while 209 air an hour of it, 23 offer 90 minutes, and 14 stations air a whopping two hours nightly.

Although Mr. Miller says he has no hard figures to prove it, he thinks this growth is part of a trend. ``You notice the one-hour increases from '86 to '87 were 13 stations - that's quite a lot,'' he said by phone from New York. ``In one case a station that had no local news before all of a sudden carried one hour of it.''

Miller thinks part of the news growth may be due to the decrease in local newspapers around the country. ``A lot of [TV] markets that used to have two or more newspapers no longer have that many,'' he notes.

This is especially true of afternoon papers, which used to be read during the 4-to-7 p.m. period. ``You see more morning newspapers now,'' Miller says. But in the afternoon and evening, people tend to watch TV for news.

Another reason for the growth in TV news: satellites. According to Miller, they permit a broader and more varied local coverage than was possible in the past. ``Before, it [this kind of coverage] was mainly a function of the networks.''

``Also, news is the major function of many stations,'' Miller points out. ``It's probably the biggest - or one of the biggest - moneymaker for a lot of them.''

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