A new Knight Foundation study finds good news for local TV broadcasters in the future information landscape, suggesting they’ll have the dominant role. Their more aggressive presence on social media may be prodding that along.
LAS VEGAS — “What’s Next for Local TV News?” a new Knight Foundation study asks.
The short answer? Shrinking audiences, but also larger newsroom staffs and more internal soul-searching and experimenting, the latter of which will reward those embracing new products and OTT opportunities.
The highlights of that study were fodder for a discussion at the Digital Futures Exchange here Sunday that posited TV’s survival advantages at its outset.
“By far local TV is in the best position for the future of supplying local news,” said Bob Papper, a journalism professor at Hofstra Unviersity.
One of the forces driving that is staffing: “In 2018, the total number of people working in TV news has passed the total number of people working in daily newspaper newsrooms,” Papper said of the pivotal change.
Another dynamic is happening online. Papper said there’s a perception that newspapers supply most local news to readers digitally, but the reality is more complicated. That newspaper advantage is generally true in the top 25 U.S. markets, he said, but in markets 26 on down the median puts local TV at 53%, while newspapers trail at 38.1%.
He also cited ShareRocket data culled from 22 markets in which the company had comparative social media data for both TV stations and newspapers. The median social share there was 85.5% for local TV with newspapers lagging deeply behind with an 11.7% share, suggesting local TV’s dominance on social.
Deborah Wenger, a journalism professor at the University of Mississippi who worked on the report, added: “One of the top findings of our study was that social doesn’t appear to cannibalize the newscast.”
In fact, Wenger asserted something that’s often anecdotally acknowledged among newsrooms but has yet to be quantified: “There is a clear relationship between high levels of Facebook engagement, as defined by total actions and higher newscast ratings.”
The caveat, she said, is that when one station hits a wildly successful stride on Facebook, it appears to have a benefit for all of the stations in the market, not just the local TV ringer. But the cumulative effect is a win for broadcast in the social sphere, reinforcing its primacy.
Maintaining relevancy is also integral for TV to stay on top of the local news pyramid, the study suggests. To that, Mark Neerman, a Las Vegas-based regional news director for Sinclair Broadcast Group who joined the discussion, says consumers are now demanding more unique, relevant content.
“We simply have to be good or they’re not gonna watch,” he said. “Paint by numbers is not going to work. We can’t just be filling time.”
For Sinclair, Neerman said, that has meant deeper dives into major community issues, such as an ongoing Vegas Lost series at its Las Vegas station examining the impact of crime on a generation of young people.
For the series, that station dedicated a reporter who has made it his only beat, and Neerman said that has already yielded fruit.
“We have to systematically add this content within our newscast,” he said.
The Knight report suggests that kind of investigative work, which focuses on issues close to viewers’ day-to-day lives, will be a necessary differentiator for audiences, and the kind of news product that can help local TV hold its enviable position among other media.
Read all of TVNewsCheck‘s NAB 2018 news here.