TV Reporting Needs An Infusion Of Fresh Voices

It’s becoming abundantly clear that conventional ways of reporting won’t hook younger viewers, who consume their news in dramatically different ways than their parents. Stations need younger, less tradition-bound journalists to help them connect.

Mary Collins

A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of being a member of a judging panel for the Alliance for Women in Media’s (AWM) 2023 Gracie Awards. Among the entries we reviewed were news reports from student journalists. Interestingly, while the topics may have been different, the segments looked and felt a lot like those from my local television stations. It seems that emulating what’s always been done is what’s being taught in today’s journalism programs. Or perhaps, the entrants simply submitted what they thought the judges, and by extension their potential new bosses, wanted to see.

Either way, that might not be good news. In fact, former Fox President and COO Peter Chernin recently predicted that legacy television will continue to decline for the next three years. You can see why he says that. Traditional television broadcasting faces continuing challenges. Linear audiences for news and all other content are both getting older and declining in size. At the same time, younger consumers are streaming entertainment and increasingly turning to social media and other digital offerings for news. The majority of these younger consumers are even paying (someone else) for news content.

This presents an opportunity for television groups that are willing to embrace it. Research from the Media Insight Project indicates that a majority of American Gen Z and millennials either pay for or donate to some type of news. Interestingly, the percentages are higher for those identifying as Black (68%) or Hispanic (63%) than for Asian (60%) or those identifying as White (57%).

In the study, paying for news is defined as “those who report either personally paying for or donating to either print or digital magazines, print or digital newspapers, digital news apps, nonprofit news sites, email newsletters from independent creators, video or audio content from independent creators or influencers through YouTube or podcasts, public radio or TV.”

The challenge for legacy media businesses is in both finding ways to connect with these audiences and in monetizing them. Results from the Media Insight Project study suggest that such consumers won’t go to station websites and that they seem to prefer content available on social media, from independent creators, and options such as one-time or recurring payments to support the content or the creator.


So, why are younger viewers getting their news from other sources? Is it the shorter format that attracts them? Axios and Smart Brief publications are both doing well; they are all about communicating information with fewer words. Is this audience looking for a different point of view? Do they want to see people who look like them? How about the promise of immediate gratification? TikTok, for example, is available on their schedule and there’s not much time between set-up and punchline.

While I don’t have the answers, I do know that television stations aren’t going to be able to reverse trends that have Gen Z and millennial viewers turning to other news sources. Stations that want to include them in audience counts are going to have to give them what they want. Researching and copying the competition is not going to be enough and it’s not sustainable. Local stations will be most successful when they tailor solutions to their markets. Further, imagining and implementing creative new content and distribution approaches requires committed employees who see things differently and are willing to take chances.

To prove Chernin’s pessimistic prediction wrong, I believe that station leadership needs to allow itself to take chances and find ways to inspire experimentation. They must resist the temptation to rely upon staff reductions and cutting employee-focused programs to increase profitability. These approaches may help in the short term, but their unintended consequences will prove costly in the long run. This is particularly true for cuts in programs that inspire employee loyalty and those intended to help attract and retain younger and more diverse candidates. These are the two groups of employees that stations will be counting on to imagine and implement the ideas that will increase future revenues.

I also urge every television group find a way to hire paid interns, giving these young and temporary employees real education and meaningful chances to suggest and implement new ideas. The “paid” part is particularly important; it creates viable opportunities for candidates from a variety of backgrounds while safeguarding against future employment lawsuits. Stations need to attract intelligent and creative people who can imagine real change, not just the well-connected son or daughter of a prosperous local family.

There’s proof that this approach can work. Last week, TVNewsCheck published a story called “Betting On Social Media As A News Destination For The Young.” It profiled the News Movement, a company founded by former Dow Jones executives, which seems to be embracing the study’s conclusions. In the just over a year since its founding, the company has hired “a staff of reporters with an average age of 25,” all of whom are tasked with creating news content for social media sites including Instagram, TikTok, Twitter and YouTube.

The group defines news very broadly and takes a decidedly untraditional approach to reporting. In one category, called “explainers,” viewers see something calming — one example is a horse being groomed — while a voice in the background talks about politics. Or consider the segment called “Get Ready with Me” featuring two women getting ready for work while discussing the day’s news.

With both audience counts and advertising revenues declining, television stations are facing big challenges. The one thing that is clear is that the old ways of doing things don’t work anymore. Yesterday’s answers will not solve today’s problems.

Former president and CEO of the Media Financial Management Association and its BCCA subsidiary, Mary M. Collins is a change agent, entrepreneur and senior management executive. She can be reached at [email protected].

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AIMTV says:

March 15, 2023 at 11:24 am

Spot on Mary. This is purely anecdotal but perhaps worth considering. When we launched Raw Travel in 2013, I was very surprised by the success the show had among young non-traditional broadcast TV demos like 18-34. Even on older-skewing affiliates like CBS, in fact, especially so. This was a hint early on, that the much-ballyhooed concept that young viewers had already fled linear tv, and especially broadcast TV, was not necessarily true. Fast forward ten seasons, and again, this is anecdotal, but I’m always surprised by the age groups of viewers who recognize me from the show… in the streets, at the airports, at a restaurant, etc. A good 25-30% of them, could be classified as Gen Z or Gen Y. Not one of them saw me on social media. Not one. All recognized me from the TV show… a weekend, 1/2 hour TV show on broadcast TV in fringe dayparts. If local broadcasters will simply not abandon young viewers and cater more to their tastes, they will and do watch linear TV. We just need some creativity, curation, and effort.

Media Moe says:

March 15, 2023 at 8:10 pm

Yes! This trend has to be contended with. There are some experiments out there but there is always the risk of undercutting the ethics of journalism in the process because what is you hire the wrong elements of social media? If I may, it’s one reason that I started a comic strip at, to satirize the need for these changes in the journalism industry – a Gen-Z prankster from TikTok who gets hired at a TV news station without the proper grounding and experience. For what it’s worth. 🙂