The end of the most recent sweeps period has revealed a disturbing trend for NBC affiliate KSL in the battle for Salt Lake City’s news viewers.
Outside observers might think KSL, owned by Bonneville International, which is owned by Deseret Management Corporation, which is owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, would dominate in the city that is the geographic heart of the Mormon Church.
Some say a weak NBC line-up and the loss of popular anchors and reporters over time are just one culprit leading to the erosion of viewers for KSL. But others point the finger squarely at one man.
Many who know both stations well say the blame for KSL’s long fall rests on the shoulders of one man: Mark Willes, the hard-charging, self-assured nephew of former LDS President Gordon B. Hinckley.
Taking over Deseret in 2009, Willes implemented a news strategy based less on hard news and investigative reporting and more on values. In a previous article in the Tribune, Willes explained the approach.
The strategy will be based on standards consistent with church principles but “are by no means exclusive to the church. They are universal values,” Mark Willes said Wednesday.
Willes was dismissed from Deseret in April, leaving what the Tribune called the “softer” approach to news as his legacy.
“They don’t see the style of news that they’ve been used to seeing from KSL for many years,” KUTV general manager Kent Crawford told the Tribune. “They see something else. I think the viewers are very savvy, and they see KSL doing some things that are nontraditional in their approach,” Crawford said.
While the Tribune debunked a theory that KSL covers Mormon news differently than other stations, they do point out the “value based” angle is losing out to investigative journalism. The Tribune asked former TV news director Rick Gevers where he thinks the problem lies, “It was like somebody woke up and said, ‘Gee, content matters,’” Gevers said. “So as people put more attention into content and coverage, presumably there’s an appetite among the viewers. A station that might be doing less of that would be impacted.”
Crawford agrees when talking about the “softer” approach to the news adopted by KSL. “I don’t think the viewer really resonates with that. Nor do they care,” he added. “They would rather have an informative newscast that is prepared professionally and delivered in a manner and style that they would like. I think that’s a big factor.”
KSL is no stranger to controversy surrounding how it approaches programming. The station recently made headlines when it refused to air “The New Normal,” a show about a gay couple having a child by surrogate. KSL also passed on airing the NBC series “The Playboy Club” in 2011. It currently does not air “Saturday Night Live,” pushing the show, instead, to CW affiliate KUCW.
An info graphic done by the Tribune shows the slow decline began in 2009.
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