“2020 will be the year when local television news begins the downward slide that has plagued local newspapers,” researcher Rachel Davis Mersey predicted in the NiemanLab Predictions for Journalism 2020.
It doesn’t have to be.
In 2019, news directors told us they're overwhelmingly optimistic about the future of local broadcast news. But that optimism depends on action. Many local newsrooms are innovating and experimenting. They're still strong financially and poised to have a bumper year in 2020.
But as Davis Mersey lays out in her NiemanLab prediction, TV news is at a tipping point and needs to innovate and invest more and faster.
Local news audiences are getting more vocal about what's not working for them about traditional TV news. Mis-and disinformation pose ongoing challenges, and threats against journalism itself are growing. Local broadcast news has so far avoided the decimation the newspaper industry has faced, but needs a greater sense of urgency and agency to avoid a similar fate.
2020 should be a year of investing in our workplaces and products and innovating inside and outside our newsrooms. Local newsrooms must not only catch up to their most innovative peers, but reinvent their products and processes.
“If local TV stations want to remain the vibrant sources of information they’ve been historically, they must avoid the two tropes that marked newspapers’ downfall: ‘Young people will age into consuming the news’ (they won’t) and ‘Habits don’t change’ (they do).” – Rachel Davis Mersey
Instead of issuing predictions for 2020, here are some resolutions every local broadcast newsroom should make, right now, to keep local news strong.
1. Innovate like a Murrow winner. See how the most innovative newsrooms across the country are creating award-winning journalism with impact and resolve to make what they’re doing right – collaboration, creativity – into core values in your newsroom.
2. Create a “stop doing” list. Your news team doesn’t have time to try new things unless they can take something off their ever growing “to do” lists. Make a bold move to deprioritize and drop things that aren’t working.
3. Take control of what you measure. Resolve to be mindful of what you measure in 2020 and aim to have a business case for every idea.
4. Challenge conventional wisdom. Ask “why” more often in 2020 and don’t let “because we’ve always done it this way” be a final answer.
5. See challenges as opportunities. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the obstacles facing local news. Resolve to reframe gaps and impediments as opportunities.
6. Go digital first. Most, but not all, news directors tell us they’ve implemented digital first strategies this year. If you haven’t yet, it’s time.
7. Make OTT a priority. Even if you’re not ready to implement in 2020, start planning and strategizing now.
8. Address burnout and toxicity head on. Don’t let the push to innovate mean pushing your team too far. Get serious about mental health and healthier workplaces.
9. Invest in leadership. Grow your newsroom’s impact by helping each member of your team grow.
10. Get serious about diversity, inclusion and opportunity in your newsroom. Become a better ally. Go or send team members (or both) to a Workplace Integrity training. Have courageous conversations. Become a true team.
Investing in both our news teams and our news products is a must in 2020 for every local newsroom. Capitalize on the strength, optimism and potential for growth 2020 presents and we have an opportunity to prove one prediction wrong.