OPEN MIKE FROM JIM WILLI

Local TV News Learns How To Be Relevant Again

In these pandemic times, local newscasts are developing creative stories that offer real answers to viewers’ main concerns. They are finally opening two-way communication channels with the viewers’ and answering their questions in meaningful ways. In short, local TV newscasts have finally found their way out of their self-created rut by becoming relevant to their audience once again. And ratings have followed.

Have you noticed: Those low hanging fruit staples of local TV news — fires, murders, car accidents, robberies — have disappeared due to COVID-19.

In their place, newscasts are offering relevant news stories that actually have an effect on viewers’ lives. In many markets, anchors have left the news desk and become like us — people working from home. TV stations are finally using the many new technologies at their disposal in creative ways to actually communicate the news.

The local TV newscasts are developing creative stories that offer real answers to viewers’ main concerns. They are finally opening two-way communication channels with the viewers’ and answering their questions in meaningful ways.

In short, local TV newscasts have finally found their way out of their self-created rut by becoming relevant to their audience once again. And ratings have followed.

There are lessons every local TV newscast should learn from this new way of doing business, starting with the storytelling itself.

First, stop “reporting” the news and clearly explain what it means to your audience. Think of what questions would you have as a viewer yourself, then answer them. Ask yourself: How can I explain the story using graphics, video and demonstrations?

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And don’t just stand in front of a building — tell the story on camera.

News directors: Use the entire news staff to report the news. You have many creative people in your newsroom who have been put in a narrow box due to their usual job descriptions. Look around and find new ways to use them in new roles to be more relevant.

On KYTX, CBS19 in Tyler, Texas, they look to bring a smile to folks on Friday, with a segment called “Tell Me Something Good.”

https://www.cbs19.tv/article/news/local/tell-me-something-good-celebrating-students/501-cd993857-fa2c-4b97-a5b0-f70d874512cb

In Buffalo, N.Y., WGRZ put together a very personal segment with a reassuring talent asking viewers to “tell me something good.”

https://www.wgrz.com/video/entertainment/television/programs/most-buffalo/most-buffalo-story-of-the-day-tell-me-something-good/71-5925dfc6-ceac-4668-9aec-07d43cb2189a

Who are the moms and dads in your newsroom who can tell “sheltering in place” stories in ways your audience will recognize and empathize with? Share them.

Open a conversation with your audience. Use myriad ways to communicate with your audience — not from a top-down approach, but from a person-to-person approach. Your viewers listen to you every day. Listen to them instead, and bring their viewpoints and concerns into a real conversation. Here’s an example:

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https://www.wfaa.com/video/news/verify/how-ya-feeling-the-world-is-changing-and-we-want-to-know-how-youre-feeling-about-it/287-28c5611c-6a37-4904-b877-e2858edc7375

Find out what viewers are concerned about, and then use all the resources at your disposal to find answers for them. KSAT in San Antonio, does a live Q&A with a local doctor:

https://www.ksat.com/news/local/2020/04/17/saq-emergency-room-doctor-answers-your-covid-19-questions/

Fox10 in Mobile, Ala. (WALA), invites viewer questions and has answers every day during their 9 p.m. newscast.

https://www.fox10tv.com/news/coronavirus/ask-a-covid-19-question-should-you-wear-gloves-to-grocery-store/article_986561b6-8032-11ea-a68e-f32ea5dfc93b.html

Hearing the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths every day can beat viewers down. Use every opportunity to show their humanity in the crisis. This doesn’t mean a nice “kicker” story at the end of the newscast. It means weaving these positive stories throughout the newscast to provide real context. For instance, people are finding creative ways to wish happy birthday to elderly neighbors and thank first responders Show them in your newscast.

WFAA in Dallas asked for pictures from the audience of first responder heroes:

https://www.wfaa.com/video/news/health/healthcare-heroes-of-north-texas/287-d7f22e67-bb83-4f69-9ca5-9cb1a92ec332

Social distancing affects everyone in different ways every day. Bring stories of local heroes — who used to be just called neighbors — who are showing great acts of human kindness.

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https://www.wfaa.com/article/news/health/coronavirus/unable-to-hold-a-funeral-for-his-mom-north-texas-man-receives-teary-surprise/287-12d58515-a352-4532-813d-bf6325f7d9e0

In Seattle, neighbors are being — well, neighborly once again.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FHDergbcRVY&list=PLi8V8UemxeG5nJSVj6ScYO2Nejz7zNtdH&index=14

Viewers are overwhelmed with story after story about the pandemic, remind them that there are a lot of good people during these bad times. Let them know you provide a balance of hope each day during these difficult times.

Here’s an example from KUSA Denver: https://www.9news.com/video/syndication/heartthreads/heartthreads-good-news-during-coronavirus-pandemic/507-d8262b39-bd51-4924-9a3d-9d6e644397b9

In short, don’t miss a once-in-a-generation opportunity. Over the years, local TV news has become less and less relevant to the audience. We’ve lost sight of how to become an important part of the audience’s daily lives, and many feel news is just negative and has no connection with them. Now is the time to seize the opportunity to change their minds and bring in a whole new generation of local TV news loyalists.

Jim Willi is a veteran journalist, and a retired partner at media consulting firm Audience Research & Development.


Comments (2)

Leave a Reply

2018bstyrevr says:

April 20, 2020 at 8:13 am

So they were not relevant before?? No they were not..

Paul Greeley says:

April 20, 2020 at 12:37 pm

Jim,
Good stuff here. I’ve been amazed to see how local TV has been inventive in the use of low tech ways to interact with everyone from state officials to viewers on camera. The use of Facetime, and Zoom especially, have opened up the means. And the good news stories showing the ways Americans are dealing with the crisis by birthday neighborhood parades, etc. has been nothing short of inspirational. When was the last time people thought local TV news was inspirational.


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