Television Lessons From A Newspaper Company
Hold onto your seats. According to multiple press reports, the Gannett newspaper company has discovered startling new information about their readers.
Exclusive research has revealed that readers do not want to be lectured or told what to think.
Thanks to this revelation, Gannett now believes that the time-honored newspaper tradition of taking editorial positions at odds with readers, printing national columnists that tell only one side of a story, and talking down to readers, could be causing some people to cancel their subscriptions.
Among other Earth-shaking revelations:
- Readers can’t always distinguish opinion pieces from straight news reports.
- Readers are tired of the same old partisan talking points.
- Syndicated columns are not widely read.
There is more, but you see where this is going: Fewer national opinion pieces, less preaching, remove opinion from news stories, emphasize local.
Not surprisingly, Gannett is facing a wave of protest from some old guard staffers, including charges that the company’s new attitude is being driven by cost cutting. In reply, Gannett says it is merely implementing “research-backed ideas for a smarter, sharper, more constructive discussion with our local news brands at the center.”
I share this information not only to make fun of Gannett, but because whoever did Gannett’s research is telling them why local television is now the nation’s most trusted form of media. But that does not mean stations can afford to rest on their laurels. Trust must be earned every day.
Today’s news consumers are smart. They know opinion, preaching and lectures when they see them, including on our own networks. If we want to retain their trust, we must never forget that viewers see forming an opinion as their prerogative, not ours. If one station has a reputation for presenting the full story and others do not, that station will usually be the most trusted.
We might discount what newspapers are trying to do as a last gasp, but what we cannot discount is the fact other media organizations are seeing the light and jumping on the trust bandwagon. If you haven’t seen NewsNation lately, it has become a sophisticated product with strong news balance. CNN is also moving back to the center with an emphasis on fairness and balance.
Other media entities want their brands to be trusted as much as ours; therefore, we must protect our brands by constantly emphasizing our hallmarks of fact-based, balanced local coverage.
Or we could simply steal Gannett’s research: fewer national opinion pieces, less preaching, remove opinion from news stories, emphasize local.
Hank Price is a media consultant. His second book, Leading Local Television, has become a standard text for television general managers. In a 30-year general management career, Price led TV stations for Hearst, CBS and Gannett, including WBBM Chicago, KARE Minneapolis, WVTM Birmingham, Ala., and both WXII and WFMY in Greensboro/Winston Salem, N.C. Earlier, he was a consultant with Frank N. Magid Associates. Price also spent 15 years as senior director of Northwestern University’s Media Management Center. He is currently director of leadership development for the School of Journalism and New Media at Ole Miss.