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A Newscast for the Masses

The History of Detroit Television News

Tim Kiska

American History, Detroit, Media Studies

Great Lakes Books Series

Published: February 2009
ISBN: 9780814333020
Pages: 224 Size: 6 x 9
Illustrations: 37 b&w illus.

“Tim Kiska provides a compelling historical account of broadcast journalism from one of the cradles of local television news.”

— Craig Allen

As the chief source of information for many people and a key revenue stream for the country’s broadcast conglomerates, local television news has grown from a curiosity into a powerful journalistic and cultural force. In A Newscast for the Masses, Tim Kiska examines the evolution of television news in Detroit, from its beginnings in the late 1940s, when television was considered a "wild young medium," to the early 1980s, when cable television permanently altered the broadcast landscape. Kiska shows how the local news, which was initially considered a poor substitute for respectable print journalism, became the cornerstone of television programming and the public’s preferred news source.

Kiska begins his study in 1947 with the first Detroit television broadcast, made by WWJ-TV. Owned by the Evening News Association, the same company that owned the Detroit News, WWJ developed a credible broadcast news operation as a cross-promotional vehicle for the newspaper. Yet by the late 1960s WWJ was unseated by newcomers WXYZ-TV and WJBK-TV, whose superior coverage of the 1967 Detroit riots lured viewers away from WWJ. WXYZ-TV would eventually become the most powerful news outlet in Detroit with the help of its cash-rich parent company, the American Broadcasting Corporation, and its use of sophisticated survey research and advertising techniques to grow its news audience. Though critics tend to deride the sensationalism and showmanship of local television news, Kiska demonstrates that over the last several decades newscasts have effectively tailored their content to the demands of the viewing public and, as a result, have become the most trusted source of information for the average American and the most lucrative source of profit for television networks.

A Newscast for the Masses is based on extensive interviews with journalists who participated in the development of television in Detroit and careful research into the files of the McHugh & Hoffman consulting firm, which used social science techniques to discern the television viewing preferences of metro Detroiters. Anyone interested in television history or journalism will appreciate this detailed and informative study.

Tim Kiska is a longtime Detroit newsman, professor of journalism, and author of From Soupy to Nuts: A History of Detroit Television. He joined the University of Michigan–Dearborn in 2001 after a three-decades-long career at the Detroit Free Press and the Detroit News. He also works as a reporter and producer at WWJ-AM.

From the very first broadcast of WWDT, Kiska gives the reader an inside view of Detroit television and its personalities, both those in front of the camera and those who worked on the business and financial end of the business. Kiska explores the tradition from radio news to television news, as well as the role newspapers played in the development of Detroit television, especially the impact that the 1967 newspaper strike had on the way news and information was transmitted to Detroit."

– Grosse Pointe Times

Tim Kiska tells the national story of the development of television news through the lens of what happened in Detroit at local stations. He has put it all into a readable, entertaining context that identifies the heroes and villains. The book is a valuable resource for students of media history."

– Ben Burns, former executive editor of the Detroit News, director of the Wayne State University journalism program, and co-author of Michigan Media Law

Newscast provides an excellent overview of four decades of Detroit television journalism, based in significant part on extensive interviews Kiska conducted with local news anchors, reporters, and station executives. Nostalgia enthusiasts will enjoy the attention Kiska gives to the personalities of the city's television new business. As a case study of the four-decade trend in Detroit television journalism, it is a solid contribution to local history."

– Michigan Historical Review

Tim Kiska provides a compelling historical account of broadcast journalism from one of the cradles of local television news. The dimensions, horizons, and personalities that shaped TV news in Detroit are brought to life and Detroit is established as a starting point for the focus groups and consultants that today make TV news a 'mass audience' function. The book offers vital insights on the emergence of modern television news."

– Craig Allen, associate professor and coordinator of broadcast news at Arizona State University

A Newscast for the Masses contains a great deal of never-before-assembled information that will prove interesting to Detroit local history buffs and students of broadcast journalism. Kiska has exhausted all available data and added to it with the many interviews he has conducted himself. The people who lived it are telling the story."

– Jane Briggs-Bunting, director and professor of journalism at the Michigan State University School of Journalism