We’ve seen examples where stations have completely disconnected their marketing from their network’s because research revealed the connection to be poison to their local news credibility. Stations should be careful not to have their credibility dragged down by the national media.
TV stations are moving to strengthen their local roots while at the same time downplaying their affiliations with their national networks. What used to be thought as smart marketing by connecting a station’s identity with its network is now being viewed by some as a net liability, in part because there’s a growing disconnect between the public and “big media,” which usually means national media.
New data last month from the Pew Research Center showed a continuation of declines in the credibility of news organizations in the U.S. But the “credibility gap” is most with national organizations. Local news entities score much higher.
In the new survey, positive believability ratings have fallen significantly for nine of 13 news organizations tested.
Across all 13 news organizations included in the survey, the average positive believability rating (3 or 4 on a 4-point scale) is 56%. In 2010, the average positive rating was 62%. A decade ago, the average rating for the news organizations tested was 71%. Since 2002, every news outlet’s believability rating has suffered a double-digit drop, except for local daily newspapers and local TV news. The New York Times was not included in this survey until 2004, but its believability rating has fallen by 13 points since then.
But local TV news — and to a lesser extent, the local newspaper — have stayed nearly the same, with 65% of those surveyed giving the local media a 3 or 4 mark. What gives?
AR&D Principal and Senior VP of Multimedia Innovation Jim Willi says the big difference maker in these kinds of studies is the “personal relationship between local news anchors and their audience.” He adds that this is “especially true for the local newscasts with long-tenured anchors who have earned the trust of their community.”
But it doesn’t end there, according to Willi. Even less-tenured local TV newscasters can form a more trusting bond by being highly engaged in social media, he says. “To do this, they must do more than just send an occasional Tweet or post something on Facebook. They must engage the audience in meaningful, and frequent conversations using social media.”
Television is the best promotional tool ever created, and smart anchors can take advantage of that in pursuing credibility with local audiences.
But AR&D research chief Earle Jones says there’s more.
“In the last 18-24 months we’ve had more and more respondents in local studies say that they don’t watch a station because it’s affiliated with a certain network. I don’t watch the FOX station because they’re affiliated with Fox News Channel, or I don’t watch the NBC station because they’re affiliated with ‘liberal’ NBC/MSNBC. We’ve even had some stations try to distance themselves from the network.”
We’ve actually seen examples where stations have completely disconnected their marketing from any affiliation with their network, because research revealed the connection to be poison in the market. While this isn’t common, it is a reflection of the status local news enjoys within the market.
AR&D research VP Rory Ellender says the Pew numbers reveal the political thinking of the public. These “credibility rankings simply have a continuing negative correlation with the increase in political rhetoric and partisanism,” he said.
“As the rhetoric has increased over the years and cable networks like Fox and MSNBC have chosen sides, the overall credibility of all news sources has steadily decreased and will continue to do so.”
Ellender thinks the good numbers for local news are a classic case of home field advantage. “People’s perceptions of bias, inaccuracy and lack of credibility get more easily tied to the nebulously defined ‘national media’ than to the local sources that are closer to home and thus more reflective of their values and beliefs.”
News credibility has been taking a hit since the mid-1970s, and most experts agree that politics or political positions in the marketplace are a big factor. However, the press hasn’t done itself any favors with countless embarrassing mistakes, disgraced journalists and the creeping sense that reporters are in it for celebrity or to rub elbows with the powerful.
Regardless, journalists seem to have an advantage with the home town crowd. It’s something local news organizations would do well not to take for granted.
Terry Heaton is senior vice president, AR&D, a broadcast consulting firm based in Fort Worth, Texas.