NEW YORK -- Both broadcast and cable news outlets are showing healthy ratings increases over last year, offering hope to networks that Sept. 11 may have gotten more people in the regular habit of watching news.
In the first three months of 2002, the ABC, CBS and NBC evening newscasts together gained 930,000 viewers over the same period last year, according to Nielsen Media Research statistics released Tuesday.
Fox News Channel more than doubled its average daily audience during the same period and rival CNN had its best first quarter since 1995.
''I think there's just a genuinely heightened interest in the world and a heightened interest in news,'' said Paul Slavin, executive producer of ABC's ''World News Tonight.''
News ratings generally soar when there's a big story, and often just as quickly sink again. What offers news executives cause for optimism is that the new numbers reflect a period more than three months removed from the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.
Many people who had lost the habit of watching news may have returned, Slavin said.
''World News Tonight'' was responsible for nearly two-thirds of the increase in viewers, jumping 6 percent to 10.4 million. NBC's ''Nightly News'' went up 2 percent and the ''CBS Evening News'' increased 1 percent to 9.4 million.
NBC remained the ratings leader, with an average audience of 11.2 million, and its representatives downplayed ABC's increase as being mostly among older viewers considered less desirable by advertisers.
Nevertheless, the numbers represented encouraging news for broadcasts that have lost viewers steadily for two decades.
Fox News Channel, which eclipsed CNN in the ratings for the first time earlier this year, continued to widen its lead. The network averaged 666,000 viewers during January, February and March, a 116 percent increase over 2001.
CNN averaged 546,000 viewers during the same period, a 55 percent jump over last year.
Struggling MSNBC averaged 290,000 viewers, up 24 percent from last year.
CNN was particularly buoyed by ratings increases in time slots where two of their big-name acquisitions, Paula Zahn and Aaron Brown, work.
''Clearly, our investment in talent is paying off and we couldn't be more pleased,'' spokeswoman Christa Robinson said.
Fox notes that CNN's drop in viewership from the busy last three months of 2001, 44 percent, was much steeper than Fox's decrease of 16 percent. CNN argues that it has farther to drop, since it gets a larger audience spike during major news stories than Fox.
''It's better for them when they don't have to compete in a heavy news environment,'' Robinson said.
A Fox News Channel spokesman declined to comment on the ratings.
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