Scripps Commits To Boost — And Better — Its News Coverage
Lately it seems like the biggest news coming out of news is that of ill-fated assets and layoffs. This month alone saw the demise of MTV News and five Sinclair-owned local outlets, while NBCU Local announced a pending shutdown of its experimental streaming service, LX News. Scores of people, or more, may have lost their jobs as a result of those cost-cutting measures, and even when monoliths like CNN look to expand, their “big swings” — as the company’s doomed streamer, CNN+, was described — quickly turn into strikeouts.
All that turmoil and more in TV alone, to say nothing of the struggles across print, which, of course, have been profound. (While writing this I received an alert that Axios Local, a promising newsletter initiative, is already slowing its expansion into new markets out of a “need to grow its existing readership and monetization capabilities,” according to AdWeek.) As an emerging job seeker from LX News told me just after that station’s coffin was rolled out, “It’s disheartening because no one has figured out that secret sauce to do really good, in-depth content and make it profitable.”
The E.W. Scripps Co., for one, says it is going to try harder.
In an email sent to employees today, CEO Adam Symson announced a “news initiative,” in which the company will “invest nearly $10 million to increase compensation where needed to ensure we can attract and retain the best journalists” and “add about 250 on-the-ground resources to our local reporting teams.”
A company statement elaborating on the scope of the effort said that each Scripps station will eventually be home to a minimum of 12 reporters, marking growth rates of 63% in large markets and 68% in small ones. There will be “additional training and development opportunities to our journalists that will help them improve our newsgathering and reporting,” the statement also said, as well as a commitment to new technologies that will aid growth.
Scripps will also “rethink” its approach to local news coverage and content, “and the way we talk to our viewers/audiences through branding and promotion,” the statement added. “Finally,” the statement continued, “we are more deep[ly] integrating Scripps News coverage into our local news products, allowing for a sharper focus on the reporting and stories that serve our communities and make the markets where we operate better places to live.”
Symson tells TVNewsCheck that, across various qualitative and quantitative market research initiatives, Scripps has “heard over and over that we are not meeting the needs of consumers.” Viewers want more “informative” broadcasts, Symson says, and less “performative” ones. Delivering such content, Symson believes, will rebuild trust with consumers, which he wrote in his email is “at an all-time low.”
In rural regions, Scripps has found out that enhanced trust and viewership lies simply in the company’s presence among them, Symson says. Putting boots on the ground and reporting relevant stories that are authentic representations of the people in those areas will bring more eyes to Scripps’ holdings.
The company has also generated a new focus on the wants and needs of Black and Hispanic viewers in response to additional consumer research findings.
“You can sit in the home of an African American family and hear them say, ‘No, I don’t trust you, I don’t watch because the only time I see myself on television in the news is either as “perpetrator” or “victim,”” Symson says, summarizing viewer feedback Scripps heard. “We’ve got to fundamentally get back to geographic and topical beats so that we develop, in these local markets, expertise.”
Scripps built its cable TV news leg in the 1980s, Symson notes, to provide “urgency” through live broadcasts, whereas local newspapers gave consumers “depth” in reporting. But with the fall of print, a void in depth has emerged. With the rise of streaming and social media, Symson says, consumers have also been presented with “infinite choices” through which to get information.
“And we as an industry didn’t rise to the occasion,” Symson says. “Now we have the opportunity to do two things: Address the product by meeting the needs of the consumer, with a better and more invaluable product, and setting up our operations in a way [that has] a greater durability necessary to perpetuate local journalism.”
Not only will Scripps do this with a greater allocation of funds toward “news gathering” positions within the company, the statement said, but also with the “deployment of new technologies.” There’s NewsDesk, a planning platform that provides news team members easy access to stories produced across the station group, and ScrippsCast, which the company describes as “a play-out solution that showcases complete reports from the field,” that will continue to be expanded.
The $10 million figure is not all new money, however. The Scripps statement revealed that some “non-news gathering roles will be eliminated over the next 18 months or so.”
Symson tells TVNewsCheck that the company’s approach to personnel changes “will evolve” over the next year and a half, as the initiative is rolled out.
“We’ve talked about the need for us to focus on those roles that are out in the field and responsible for the storytelling, the journalism, the relationship[s] in the community,” Symson says. “We clearly need the very best producers also, in order to put our newscasts together, but if we focus less on the performative aspects and more on the informative aspects, you should expect us to think differently about some of the hallmarks of what has traditionally been live newscast production.”
Admittedly “dancing” around hard specifics, he says that might entail “less leaning on the performance of live shots,” which don’t always enhance the informative aspects of a story. Therefore, he says, there may also be less of a need “potentially [for] roles that are necessary for live newscasts supporting that performative aspect.”
But the Scripps reprioritization of substantive news is, Symson says, “an imperative, not just for our business, but for the American news landscape.” Unfortunately, such an ambitious maneuver requires difficult decisions about personnel, in large part because, as Symson puts it, in this industry, “nobody’s got money to throw around.”
Still, he sees in the failing of newspapers an economic opportunity for TV news to fill an information gap. If that’s not enough motivation for a company like Scripps to take such action, Symson says, it has “a fundamental responsibility” to deliver news.
“And if we don’t change our product and address some of the economic durability issues,” he continues, “we won’t be around 25, 30 years from now in order to serve local communities.”
May 25, 2023 at 6:15 pm
Seriously? This isn’t 1985. Where are the consumers of local news? Where are the people looking for concise, in depth journalism? I know where they aren’t….sitting on their behinds watchin broadcast television.