A Quick Trip Around The World Of Local News

Among stories of interest to the local journalism community are the ratings gains in Washington, D.C., during the government shutdown; the decline in local news viewing overall; a new morning show at previously newsless KCWI Des Moines, Iowa; a new company called ProPixTV that is selling feature stories to stations; and a tip of the old rabbit ears to KARE Minneapolis’ Brad Huppert who just won his ninth and 10th Edward R. Murrow Awards.

Ratings, research and some really good television — there’s all sorts of interesting stuff going on that touches on TV news.  Here’s a look at some of it:

First, I’m happy to report that the government shutdown was not for naught — at least for Washington, D.C., broadcasters. Based on a surge in ratings during most of those 16 days, seems folks in our nation’s capital turned to local TV news for word on returning to work.

From the Oct. 1 start of the shutdown to Oct. 14, more adults 25-54 watched the 6 p.m. local news in the country’s 8th largest market than did during the same time span in September. Ratings in that demo for NBC-owned WRC, which had the No. 1 6 p.m. newscast during the shutdown, rose 20.34%; ratings for Allbritton’s ABC affiliate WJLA, which had the second-highest rated newscast, rose 31.17%; and Gannett’s CBS-affiliated WUSA, whose newscast ranked fourth, experienced a 6.78% increase in those viewers. Fox-owned WTTG was third, but had the only 6 p.m. newscast that lost 25-54 year-old viewers, which declined by 5.48%. However, WTTG’s 10 p.m. news rose 54% in the same demographic.

The ratings for adults 25-54 at 11 p.m. told a similar story. Ratings for No. 1-ranked WRC’s newscast rose 48%; WJLA’s were up by 102.44%; WTTG drew 10.32% more viewers; and WUSA, which once again had the fourth-rated newscast, rose by 47.69%.

That growth, however, isn’t reflected in the country at large. The latest research from the consultancy SmithGeiger shows the number of people watching local TV news continues to drop.

The research, based on data collected during the third quarter of this year, finds that just 59% of 25-54 year-old viewers tune into local news at least once a week. That’s down from the 73% of viewers who watched news weekly when SmithGeiger started keeping track in the first quarter of 2011.


“That’s a pretty precipitous shift,” says Seth Geiger, the company’s president. “The trend seems to be accelerating.”

But there is hope, he says, if broadcasters turn news consumers’ growing penchant for smartphones and tablets into opportunities. Mobile apps that do things like alert users to breaking news can successfully drive people to TV, he says.

“It is absolutely is doable,” Geiger says. “When a particular station alerts users to a story, the likelihood of them turning to that station does increase dramatically.”

KCWI in Des Moines, Iowa, is producing a morning show (and having a great time doing it) that captures the potential of local broadcasting.

Now 18-months old, Great Day is the darling of KCWI VP-GM Ted Stephens, an industry vet who believes broadcasters should return to the days of producing and owning their own shows if they want to stay in business.

“TV got lazy,” Stephens says. “You can’t rely on syndicated programming to be successful. You have to get control of your own destiny.”

The show — which, having just added a fourth hour runs from 6 to 10 a.m. weekdays– is about as local as you can get. Hosted by a longtime local radio personality, Great Day includes news headlines read straight from The Des Moines Register, signature segments from people like Ron the Car Guy and live traffic updates from the station’s cameras around town.

The head of the Des Moines Symphony is worthy of an eight-minute Great Day interview, as are other notables like the University of Iowa president and celebrities who come through town. A rooftop camera captures images of the Iowa State Capitol or the Iowa Cubs minor league ballpark.

But what makes this story even better is that Pappas Telecasting-owned KCWI, which does not produce local news, literally created this show from scratch, building studios and hiring talent to get it on air.

“We are just a little CW station,” Stephens says. “We’re not a news station. We don’t have a sister station. What we’re doing with that morning show we are doing on our own.”

Great Day is gaining steam with viewers, too, most notably beating Citadel’s ABC affiliate WOI at 6-7 a.m. in the May book, Stephens says.

“The beauty is that we are the only local show in town,” he says. “If you want local news, local traffic and local weather four or five times an hour, we are the one.”

Remember way back when stations used to have feature reporters? A new company called ProPixTV is trying to bring them back to local TV.

Created by longtime newsman Joe Coscia and Mathew Sheen, ProPixTV offers local broadcasters lifestyle pieces on topics like food, travel, movies and pets that they can drop into their newscasts.

The company has assembled a stable of dedicated reporters with particular expertise committed to filing reports on a regular basis, so that they soon become familiar to local TV watchers, Coscia says.

The pieces are editorially sound and are designed to fill that void of features created by budget slashing and the like.

“What we know is that local TV stations would love to have these specialty reporters, but they have become a luxury,” he says. “We are adding content, personality and, most of all, this consumer-friendly content that can be sponsored.”

Coscia says the company is hoping to launch during the first quarter of 2014. He won’t say how much subscribing to ProPixTV will cost, but emphasizes that affordability is key. Pricing is scaled based on market size and how much of the content TV stations want to use, he says.

Boyd Huppert deserves a shout-out for picking up his ninth and 10th Edward R. Murrow Awards, winning the largest number of those awards in RTDNA’s collective memory.

Huppert, a reporter at Gannett’s KARE Minneapolis-St. Paul, won the feature story award for a story on six couples married more than 50 years, all living on the same block. He also won an award for writing.

Huppert says the awards are “side effects” of his continual efforts to find ways to connect with viewers — and “going down this road with some amazing photographers.”

“My goal for every story is to engage viewers in some way.  Make them laugh, make them cry, make them angry — just make them feel something,” Huppert says. “We kid ourselves to think that can only happen in feature stories.  It should happen in all our stories.”

It’s time once again to feature some of those outstanding local news stories being produced. So drop me an email at [email protected] and tell me about the stories you’ve aired in the last six months that you believe deserve some national attention.

Read other Air Check columns here. You can send suggestions for future Air Checks to Diana Marszalek at [email protected].

Comments (7)

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kendra campbell says:

October 22, 2013 at 11:17 am

20% drop in local TV news ratings from 2011 confirms the five year 10% annual trend. Most stations are their own worst enemies – producing great quantities of news-on-the-cheap – largely defined by crime, car crashes, and endless weather hype. Add the mind numbing commercial glut – and it’s surprising that the trend line isn’t worse. Mobile apps are not the magic answer to boring, superficial content. The train is leaving the station.

    Wagner Pereira says:

    October 22, 2013 at 12:50 pm

    Another clueless post as to cause and effect. Comical use of research to show effect, but dismisses (or more likely no access to Research) as to cause.

loretta mahoney says:

October 22, 2013 at 1:07 pm

I’m not surprised by the smaller percentage of 25-54’s that watch local news at least once a week. I retired 7 years ago and nothing has changed in the TV world, but lots has changed in the new media world! Remember when Facebook didn’t really have a mobile app? Now they do and they are monetizing it like crazy. When I was working in TV, I watched local news like crazy. Once I retired and moved away from my old market, I didn’t watch as much local news. Now I don’t watch any – and I’m 71 years old – right in that “heavy TV watcher, because they don’t have anything else to do” age group! Why don’t I watch local news? Because they don’t have anything on that interests me! It’s real simple. I get weather forecasts, radar, etc. etc. right from my iPhone with WeatherUnderground. Plus I get the “right now” local weather conditions (because they use local weather stations) and I get it “when I want it” – not at 5pm, 6pm, and 10/11pm. Even when there is severe weather, I depend on WeatherUnderground’s radar. I can track those storms right to my location – right on my iPhone. Don’t need local news. Don’t watch local news!

    alicia farmer says:

    October 22, 2013 at 1:13 pm

    Exactly my experience and thoughts. No compelling reason to waste a half hour of my time. My children are in their mid 30’s and never spend a minute with local TV news.

    Brad Dann says:

    October 22, 2013 at 7:07 pm

    you hit it on the head, if it’s not interesting, people don’t watch. That’s the problem far more than cost cuts. Equating $ spent to quality product is a lot like saying paying teachers more means better results for children in schools. Never works that way. Stations that focus on their content find interesting stories and keep viewers. The other factor not in here is Nielsen’s lack of ability to accurately count viewing beyond the diary.

Paul Vizard says:

October 22, 2013 at 5:40 pm

I retired this year. I hope I don’t become a grumpy old man.

    Wagner Pereira says:

    October 23, 2013 at 11:13 pm

    If you retired, it was probably on your terms because you knew how to manage change, unlike some former GMs in the Industry.