The annual RTDNA/Lawrence Herbert School of Communication at Hofstra University Newsroom Survey, conducted for the past 25 years by Emeritus Distinguished Professor Bob Papper, provides an in-depth look at the local broadcast news business from the eyes of news directors and General Managers. The 2019 survey shows several positive developments for local news: More radio and TV stations are producing more news, hiring more staff, investing in investigative and community-service reporting and adapting to changing technology.
The research outlined here matches the overwhelming optimism station owners and news directors report feeling about the future of the medium and their enthusiasm for addressing the challenges the business does face.
The number of TV stations originating local news is up, and the number of stations running local news is close to last year’s all-time high.
In 2018, three additional newsrooms began producing local TV news, bringing the total to 706 local TV newsrooms across the country producing local news.
This interrupts a trend of the last decade, during which the number of local TV newsrooms had been shrinking by an average of seven per year. In 2017, only two local TV newsrooms dropped off the list.
In total, 1,069 TV stations ran local news in 2018, down three from the all-time high a year before. The decrease is due to fewer stations re-airing local news produced by affiliates.
TV News Numbers
The number of hours of local TV news has hit an all-time high.
Local TV stations report producing an increase of 18 minutes of local news per weekday in the last year, bringing the average aired to a record 5.9 hours of news per weekday. The median number of 6 hours per weekday ties last year’s reported median. Stations across markets, staff sizes and network affiliates all increased their news production and stations were about 20 times more likely to add newscasts than to cut.
Radio news stations also aired more local news, on average, in the past year than the year before, with more stations reporting increasing news.
Radio News Numbers
Local TV news employment was up 2.6% in 2018 and is at the second highest level ever.
For the second year, local TV news employment surpasses the newspaper workforce.
The local TV news workforce grew by 700 over the past year, reaching 27,800, just 100 off the all-time high ten years ago.
TV News Staffing
Average and median newsroom full-time staff size is up in all but the top 25 markets, which grew in part-time staff. The typical local TV news department includes approximately 40.5 staffers, up slightly from last year, and newsrooms hired for about one new position each in the past year.
Typical TV News Staff
Nearly three times as many news directors plan to increase staff this year as did last year.
For the first time in a decade of tracking multimedia journalists, fewer stations report using MMJs, but those that do are hiring more for new positions.
TV News MMJs
Higher participation by public radio stations shows radio newsrooms are larger than we thought.
The number of large radio newsrooms in all market sizes that participated in this year’s survey, particularly large public radio newsrooms, increased significantly from past years, giving a better picture of radio newsrooms.
The median, or typical, number of news staffers per radio newsroom remains at one, but jumps to three for public radio stations. And on average, commercial radio stations employ 1.7 newsroom staffers – up from 1.6 a year ago – while public stations employ 6.4, up 2 from a year ago.
Public radio stations were nearly 4 times as likely to have increased staffing over the past year and are more than 5 times as likely to be planning to grow in the coming year. Just 1% of radio managers, overall, expect to lose staff in the coming year.
Radio News Staffing
More public radio stations are growing – and the positions radio overall is adding are beat-specific reporters.
When asked about hiring for replacements and new positions, more radio stations this year reported hiring reporters than in past years. Newsroom managers reported hiring primarily beat-specific reporters, including those covering education, specific geographic areas, government, the environment, health and even innovation.
Local News Hiring
Public radio budgets are slightly growing.
More commercial radio news stations report they are breaking even and fewer report a loss this year than last year, though slightly fewer report a profit.
Of the 26.1% of radio respondents representing non-commercial stations, nearly 30%, or twice as many as the previous year, report a budget increase in the last year, versus less than 10% of commercial stations.
Radio Budgets & Profitability
More than half of local TV stations report they are placing more emphasis on investigative reporting than a year ago, representing the primary area stations say they’re focusing on more.
Of nearly 300 TV News Directors who described more about what they’ve done in the past year to improve their journalism products, more than 40% report emphasizing investigative reporting, fighting for public records and producing more in-depth special reporting.
Radio managers, too, report focusing not only on reaching larger audiences with their reporting, but using newer formats like podcasts, events and newsletters to reach them with deeper, more in-depth or topical reporting.
TV News Content | Radio News Innovation
TV and radio News Directors are investing in training.
Up from 22.8% last year, just over 30% of TV News Directors report adding staff training in the last year, including cross-platform training, conferences and regular staff seminars. They also report focusing more on regular feedback and coaching and staff-driven special projects.
Radio managers, similarly, report focusing on travelling to training conferences or hosting in-house training, though not at increased levels.
TV News Innovation
Social listening is growing.
In addition to focusing more on investigative reporting, records and training, News Directors also report providing staff more time to do in-depth projects and build community with sources and audiences.
While fewer TV News Directors in each of the past two years have reported trying something new on social media, social strategy is maturing and changing for local broadcasters, who now are more likely to report incorporating social listening, groups and live discussion or engagement.
News Directors also say their stations are getting more strategic with push alerts, sending fewer or more targeted alerts via app.
TV on Social Media | TV on Mobile
More than 200 TV News Directors report trying new things online, with nearly 60% reporting they’re building new, digital first strategies and plans, including staff reorganization to integrate digital at the center of the news team. The survey also shows that total TV digital staffing is down slightly, and fewer TV staffers overall have website responsibilities. 20% of new TV hires were digital-focused in the last year.
TV on Digital | Web Staffing
For the first time, a majority of local TV stations now own drones.
55% of local TV stations report owning a drone, up from 45% a year ago and less than 20% a year before that.
TV News Drones
Radio stations are thinking cross-platform.
According to the latest survey data, more radio stations have apps than ever, with 63% reporting having one or more apps. 70% of public stations and just under 60% of commercial stations say they have an app.
Fewer radio stations report that their websites are operating at a loss, and more say it is breaking even or even making a profit. More radio stations also report increasing online content.
Radio stations are growing social media strategies to include more photo- and video-based platforms and content.
Radio on Social Media | Radio Web Profitability | Radio Online | Radio on Mobile | Radio Technology
Bob Papper is Emeritus Distinguished Professor of Journalism at Hofstra University and has worked extensively in radio and TV news. This research was supported by the Lawrence Herbert School of Communication at Hofstra University and the Radio Television Digital News Association.
About the Survey
The 2019 RTDNA/Lawrence Herbert School of Communication at Hofstra University Survey was conducted in the fourth quarter of 2018 among all 1,685 operating, non-satellite television stations and a random sample of 3,481 radio stations. Valid responses came from 1,310 television stations (77.7%) and 645 radio news directors and general managers representing 1,938 radio stations. Some data sets (e.g. the number of TV stations originating local news, getting it from others and women TV news directors) are based on a complete census and are not projected from a smaller sample. Find complete reports at RTDNA.org/research.