The Pew Research Center released a report called “Local News in a Digital Age,” looking at three American cities, their news outlets, and how the community engaged with them today. For anyone interested in civics and journalism, the findings are a little depressing. Newspapers may be able to redeem themselves, but local television news should be embarrassed.
When we talk about television and second screens, we don’t talk about how many keep their cable for local news. From the 2014 Pew Report on the State of the News Media:
After years in decline, local television news showed new signs of life in 2013. Viewership increased in every key time slot. Local morning news (5 to 7 a.m. Eastern Time or equivalent) gained 6.3%, early evening newscasts followed with a 3.3% increase and late night news programs were flat (up 0.1%). This follows declines every year across all time slots from 2008 to 2012, with the exception of a small uptick in 2011. The jump in viewership in the key timeslots was due largely to significant increases in the November sweeps period when morning news was up 12%, early evening grew by 8% and late night increased by 6%.
This new study shows that people are watching, but not a lot of journalism is going on. Most segments are “reactive,” and when they aren’t it’s weather, sports, and traffic. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but a balance of investigative journalism would be nice, right?
The social outlets for the local television stations didn’t fare that well either. They point back to their own stories (on weather, traffic, and sports) and people comment in droves for the first few hours, then it drips off.
We talk about models for t-commerce, advertising, and fan engagement. But how will we get our local news when the cords are cut? In New York City the best local news comes not from the national affiliate, but from Time Warner Cable. They own NY1, a local news station that’s actually pretty good. Non-Time Warner customers can watch ten videos for free, but after that, if you’re in another zone, you can’t have anyone read the newspapers to you in the morning, not even online.
The data is damning: local television serves little purpose and engagement with the local TV on the web wanes. There are interesting stories to tell if there’s the money to pay someone to tell them and people are watching. So, I ask again, how are we going to get good local news on say, Apple TV?