At the 2018 Excellence in Journalism conference, Ellen M. Crooke, the Vice President of News at TEGNA Media and an RTDNA board member, Deborah Halpern Wenger, assistant dean and associate professor at the University of Mississippi, Bob Papper, professor emeritus, at Hofstra University, and Tracie McKinney, the news director for KTNV, led a discussion, sponsored by the Knight Foundation, on the crucial role of innovation in the future of local TV news.
Papper, who conducts annual research for RTDNA, delved deeper into the trends in local TV news over the years. He talked about how a longitudinal, market-by-market analysis of local TV stations revealed a bigger loss in the 35-54-year-old audience group from 2009-2016 than the18-34-year-old audience group. While, on the other hand, the 55+ local news audience group kept growing.
“The local TV news audience is slowly, but not consistently, shrinking,” said Papper. “Mostly, it is aging.”
Paper also emphasized the dominance of local TV news on social media and how it was an important tool for local journalists to engage with their viewers.
“What we find in local TV is that it is almost all online or in social media” said Papper. “That is how you engage your audience.”
Despite the success of local TV news online, there is a little to no revenue generated from social media platforms.
“Local TV dominates social media,” said Papper. “The ‘why’ for this is undoubtedly because there is little money in social media and so newspapers largely stayed out of that other than Twitter feeds sending out information.”
"Innovation is not going to be a eureka moment, sticking with it and moving on...keep tweaking it. We're in it for the long haul to save journalism in our communities." -@ellencrooke of @TEGNA at the @RTDNA conference for #EIJ18— Jennifer Schultz (@jennyfromthenap) September 27, 2018
Throughout the discussion, all of the panelists stressed the importance of enterprise and investigative reporting at local TV news stations to attract audience members. The source of innovation, they said, is rooted in the local journalists who are plugged into their respective communities.
“It is the journalists that are working the field, that have a passion to do something better, to create content that they [audience members] want to watch,” said Crooke. “That is where we found the best innovation is coming from.”
Some newsrooms across the country have taken initiatives to launch their own innovative ideas.
Through “snackable” digital newscasts, digital episodic content, OTT and social-only stories, these newsrooms are hoping to increase viewership.
“Innovation is not really cosmetic,” said Wenger. “It is focused on listening to the audience, responding to the audience and bringing the audience into the storytelling and providing enterprise on a daily basis.”
Two of the most important tools that local journalists should use to bring fresh, audience-engaging ideas to the newsroom are social listening and social engagement. McKinney encouraged all local journalists to go out and listen to what the people in their communities are talking about and what they want to know more about.
“Our viewer has completely changed. We don’t necessarily know what their needs are, they are unarticulated,” said McKinney. “We need to find out what they care about and find creative ways to engage them.”
Towards the end of the discussion, Crooke highlighted the importance for local stations to continue to test innovative ideas. She recognized that incorporating some ideas into the daily newscast could cause a dip in ratings, but she argued that the payoff in the future was worth it.
“The ones who have made the change lost before they brought in viewers,” said Crooke. “If we want a different type of viewer, a younger type of viewer, we are going to offend the people who want two people speaking to them by sitting behind a desk.”