Local TV News Still Matters

Lots of people are cord-cutting these days – but there’s only so much cord to cut. Lots of folks are asking if local news still matters, but there is mounting evidence towards a resounding yes. A free press is the best sign of a thriving democracy and a myriad of bloggers with their own agendas (often paid agendas) will have a hard time connecting to local communities hungry for objective local news. We can’t lose local news and there’s a growing amount of research supporting this view.

A recent survey by Melody Kramer1 on Poynter got to the heart of what local news brings to its community and the answers might surprise you. Said one participant, “national correspondents swoop in and provide two minutes of a story, whereas local reporters can revisit a story multiple times to make sure that we, the listeners, fully understand it and its impact on us, if there is one.”

The growing consensus is that it’s important to have professionals/journalists cover the news as opposed to often-biased bloggers reporting what they think truth is that day.

Another participant responded: “The purpose of the local paper or station is to see, know, care about and understand your community in ways your neighbors don’t and then share what you find. It’s to be perpetual tourist in your town with a side helping of too much empathy.”1

The Local News Research Project investigated how the content, amount and spatial patterns of local news coverage in mainstream and ethnic media portray people and places in the Greater Toronto Area. They report that “local news matters because it helps shape how people see the place where they live, what they think about, and how they interpret events and see other people. It’s also important because it provides people with the information they need to become engaged in their communities and to influence what happens there.”2

Research from Los Angeles shows that the more dense the web of storytelling, the more engaged people become in their communities. “News media does more than just convey fact. It constructs a reality.”2

A Pew Center study of local news in three different U.S. cities determined one clear winner in the competition for top local news provider — TV.  The three cities studied include Denver, Macon, Georgia and Sioux City, Iowa.  What’s particularly notable is that TV is such a dominant source for news in a large market like Denver, which has 143 local news providers, according to Pew.3

According to the study “nearly nine-in-ten residents follow local news closely—and about half do so very closely.” The Pew report also offers interesting details on the topics of news people pay attention to — a fifth or more of people in all three cities studied say they closely track news about weather, crime, schools and education, as well as government and politics. This study serves to highlight that local stations should continue to focus their news coverage to better serve their communities and maintain their audiences.3

Which leads us to another response from Melody Kramer’s survey. “Local newspapers provide folks an accurate, honest and curated introduction to their neighbors and to the issues about which their neighbors are passionate. They frame the conversation in a community. Usually, that’s as simple as shifting the conversation to be centered on others instead of on ourselves. That’s something social media can’t do well.”1

One last reason local news is so important comes from David Pierce at The Verge.com. He says that TV news now has a new role of great importance. “We don’t need to know what’s happening — Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, Instagram, and our favorite blogs handle that just fine — but we desperately need to know which of the ten thousand stories we hear every day is most important, and why. TV news’s opportunity is to ignore fake stories, the non-stories, and the trivial stories, and tell us what really matters.”4

The headline is that the headlines aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.