Local news is not dead.
And no, Ron Burgundy, this is not a joke.
It’s the first time in the semester that I have felt hopeful. I have pored over countless articles and studies telling me I was a fool.
“Journalism is changing kid, you’ll be lucky to have a job,” they said.
Pew Research did case studies in Denver, Colorado, Macon, Georgia, and Sioux City, Iowa. The cities vary extremely in terms of population, demographics and local news outlets, who watched the news and why.
However, one variable remained constant: people pay attention local news.
Nine out of ten residents across the three cities consumed local news. But I wanted to know why?
Why, in a world saturated with news outlets- network news, digital news, social media, you name it- covering national and international news around the clock, would anyone chose to watch a local station?
Why, when you can logon to Twitter and see an infinite number of 140-characeter headlines about a single event would anyone sit down to watch a 6 o’clock newscast with no more than 12 stories?
Why do people still care?
1. Proximity: Viewers care about news that is close to them. If a burglar is ransacking a California town I care, but not as much as I would about a robbery on Franklin Street. The news that matters most to viewers is the news that is in their backyard. It is what affects them most and what they are most likely to pay attention to. Local news has, and always will have, that element. It’s in the name… local
2. Civic Engagement: Local stations are one of the only places that viewers can find news about local government and politics. While CNN has in-depth coverage of national and international political happenings, I doubt they will ever report on the city council election in Mount Airy, North Carolina.
Local stations are also typically involved in the communities they report on. They support non-profits, encourage good civic behavior and serve as figureheads.
3. Familiarity: Viewers are used to hearing news from their respective local personalities. I know Eric Chilton reports heartwarming, lighthearted stories in the morning, so I tune in.
I spoke with a family living in Greensboro last week. As a former intern at the CBS affiliate in the city I was interested in what station they relied on for their news. They said while they recognized that the CBS station produces a better newscast they had watched the local ABC station since they moved to Greensboro and just could not change over at this point.
But they are also familiar with the area and people covered by local stations. When a station interviews a former classmate and I recognize them, I become instantly engaged and invested in the news.
Pew says a smaller market (such as the Sioux City market) allows a larger percentage of the population to have one-on-one contact with local reporters. 29 percent of Sioux City residents have spoken with a local reporter in comparison with 16 percent in Denver.
I am by no means assuming that large networks and national news stations cannot achieve the same level of news coverage that these local station do, however, I do believe that local news outlets better personalize news.
And that keeps viewers coming back and staying loyal.