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Local TV news facing same basic problem as newspapers

nancy loo
Nancy Loo

Nancy Loo, a reporter at Chicago’s WGN-TV, has about 600,000 Facebook followers. Meanwhile, the main newscast on which she appears has about 400,000 viewers.

That, in a nutshell, sums up the dilemma of local TV news. Although the decline of newspapers has gotten more attention since the digital revolution took off in earnest a decade ago, local TV news is fighting the same battle for eyeballs and ad dollars.

Local TV news viewership declined 6 percent between 2006 and 2012, according to the Pew Research Center’s annual “State of the News Media” report. As with newspapers, the drop was steepest among younger audiences.

Only 28 percent of those ages 18 to 29 now regularly watch TV news. That’s down from 42 percent just six years earlier — meaning that local TV newscasts lost one of every three young viewers in barely half a decade. Those are the viewers and consumers of tomorrow, and they’re tuning out.

In recent years, local stations grew their audiences by adding early-morning newscasts: at 6 a.m., 5 a.m. and even, in some cities, as early as 4 a.m. That strategy may have reached its limit, as early-morning newscasts lost 5 percent of their viewers in 2012.

Local TV stations, like their print brethren, are hoping that their websites can make up for the decline in their traditional business. TV certainly has an advantage in that arena; its video capabilities far outstrip those of newspapers on the video-friendly Internet. But the Pew report notes that 16 of the nation’s top 25 local media sites belong to newspapers.

And in any event, advertising on the Web doesn’t bring nearly the price that stations are accustomed to getting for broadcast spots. The old adage, “print dollars, digital dimes,” applies to broadcasting, too.

Yet local TV stations actually had a good year in 2012, revenue-wise. Fueled by political advertising, a stronger auto industry and the Olympics, local TV took in $19.7 billion in 2012, a 10 percent increase over 2011. But the bounce wasn’t as great as in recent political/Olympic years.

One area of real growth has been retransmission fees — money paid to local stations by cable operators for the right to broadcast their programming. It now accounts for about 10 percent of station revenues. But as younger consumers ditch cable and get their favorite shows online, that pond will dry up, as well.

Local TV is in better shape than newspapers, which have lost more than half of their revenue over the last decade. But the local TV business is just as much a legacy medium as newspapers. Its decline hasn’t been as dramatic, but it will continue.

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Comments (16)

I don't watch tv, period.

I don't watch tv, period. News websites like this and NPR along with MPR radio provide more thorough coverage without fluff and obnoxious commercials every two minutes.

Quit watching local TV news

I quit watching local TV news over a year ago. One to two sentence "stories" sandwiched between 6 to 8 minutes of commercials. It takes less than two minutes to get the broadcast "information" from the web.

I Watch

You get lots on TV news that is not as good elsewhere. The discussion between the anchors and the beat reporters adds some depth. Turning on the TV is easier. I can DVR the TV. The weather maps are more flexible. The traffic report is more extensive. I also watch Weather Channel for stories that are not local. They certainly explain tropical storms better than any other source. To me, digital weather is like self checkout at the grocery store. What you get involves a lot more work than what is packaged on TV. Seems like, though, they have to sell way more ads than used to be the case. My hunch is that onscreen personalities are vastly overpaid. What print journalist ever made what the major network anchors get. Their salaries are ridiculous.


Where can I find local TV news ratings? I know MinnPost will post local TV news ratings from time to time but is there somewhere I can find them on a regular basis? Thanks.


Local tv news is so bad it is no surprise that viewership has declined. It's more about personalities and advertising than content. They can't even cover local stories well enough to justify the awful collection of soft core nonsense that seems to gush out of the mouths of "anchors" (Cronkite is spinning in his grave with my use this term to describe today's juvenile newsreaders) better to tun it off and listen to actual news on MPR.


I left the 6 o'clock news when "The Big Bang Theory" reruns began on channel 29.

Local news

It couldn't be that we are tired of watching the reporter on the freeway overpass telling us traffic is bad because it is snowing?

It couldn't be that we are tired of the kids waving at the end of the broadcast?

It could be that the #9 cant wait to get real news out of the way so they can talk about the Vikings or what Prince is doing on "the Buzz"?

Or that they never asked Senators Franken or Klobuchar if they actually read the Obamacare bill before they voted on it?

Or that they will not ask Senators Franken or Klobuchar if they plan on reading the Immigration bill before voting on it?

Could it be, just like the Star Tribune, that its just too liberal for a growing number of people?


I was nodding in agreement with your post until I got to the end.

"Liberal?" Seriously? Because they don't ask the same questions Jason Lewis tells his listeners should be asked ("Have they ever/will they read . . .?")? Have you watched KSTP anytime in the last decade? Did you miss the fawning coverage given Tim Pawlenty while he was playing Governor (or the breathless coverage of his pathetic Presidential ambitions by the ultra-leftist Strib)? Has Representative Kline ever been asked about his ties to for-profit education? Has Representative Paulsen ever been asked much of anything?

Senators Franken and Klobuchar have good approval ratings. How is it that the people who give these two undoubted Bolsheviks high ratings turn away from TV news because it's "too liberal?"

I don't watch

I can far more easily parse "news" online. Since most of it lacks any sort of quality control, anyway, I just as well skip the waste of time and figure it out myself from the bits of data I get when it's convenient. Besides, TV news can't even get the photography right--often including shaky, dark video for everything but the studio (we don't need no stinking professionals, just give some kid a Sony!)--why bother? And I'm afraid that Amelia and Frank just don't have the same level of seriousness as Don Shelby. I want news and maybe even some actual journalism, not some cute couple pretending to make eyes at each other on the air in order to sell their brand of news.

I wonder if all the phoniness has..

...something to do with it? The chummy awe shucks, we're plain folks BS is really sickening. Add to that the fact that they really don't do much in the way of reporting, Weather, Sports, traffic, commercials, a little he said she said politics and you've got your broadcast. Personally I stopped watching TeeVee News the day after Paul Wellstone's memorial. Don Shelby went on a surreal rant about what he perceived to have happened at that memorial, pretty much word for word the right wing spin and at that point I turned it off and never went back.

yep !

Same here ! And up until thart point it was the news i watched. It was a "Rush" moment done by a local I will never forget. And now it's all that.

TV News generally is not news anymore

TV news has migrated, just about entirely, to the entertainment industry. Fox news makes up a lot of their sensational commentary to suit their political goals. A good example of news migration was Larry King. When he was on the air, years ago, he interviewed world leaders talking about the issues of the day. By the time he was off the air he was trying people accused of crimes before they ever went to trial. Get a lawyer or two on a remote shot and he was good to go. Why, because it was sensational, cheap to do, and it could go on for months at a time with a copious amount of time for the almighty commercials.

I HATE the teasers

The thing that drives me nuts with local newscasts is the constant teasing. "Will it rain this weekend? Stay tuned for 20 more minutes and we'll tell you yes or no."

Half the time it takes less time for them to tell us what happened or is happening than they spend teasing us about it.

They're competing for my time. And losing.

Here's the typical local news program:

Hard-driving music with 15-second teasers
Anchors joking around
A quick mention of news stories that are so obvious that you'd have to be unconscious not to have heard about them elsewhere
Promos for the network's comedy and drama programs and/or other commercials disguised as programs. ("The XYZ Company has just come out with a wonderful new machine that sorts, washes, dries, folds, and irons your laundry in half an hour. Here's Gabby Chatty to tell you how it works.")
A few murders and fires and car crashes
A "cute" story about a kitten stuck in a tree or a couple who got while floating down the Mississippi. If there are no murders or fires or spectacular car crashes that day, the viewers get extra "cute" stories.
Ten minutes of weather
Ten minutes of sports

I'm old enough to remember real news on the local news, such as what the city governments and state governments were up to.

Bad Math

"Nancy Loo, a reporter at Chicago’s WGN-TV, has about 600,000 Facebook followers. Meanwhile, the main newscast on which she appears has about 400,000 viewers."

This is bad logic. The problem with this comparison is people only have to "like" someone on Facebook once, whereas on the broadcast side they have to watch every night in order to be counted. If people had to like her profile every night, you would probably only see a few hundred or a few thousand hits as opposed to 600,000.

As for TV and newspaper coverage, provide me with real stories and real reporting and I'll watch or read. As it is, I gave up on the two of them decades ago when they went the way of infotainment. My time is too valuable to waste it wading through fluff pieces like "is your sofa safe to sit on? Tune in for our special report to find out!" Give me some hard reporting and I'll be there. And I'm not talking about a couple of talking heads hammering away at each other. People screaming at each other is not my idea of reporting--that's just lazy production values so they don't have to pay a reporter to head into the field.

Old news.

This week for some reason it's been really bad. A couple rapes got everyone talking about safety and so all the channels were reporting the same common sense stuff, don't walk alone, be aware, avoid secluded places etc. etc. but then they all recommended that women carry their keys so they can use them as weapons if need be. Well, you can to that but most people have no clue how to use a car key as an effective weapon so simply carrying them is useless advice. Not one reporter on any of the stations I saw took two seconds to demonstrate how this is done, they probably don't know. And then there's always that business of standing around in the dark (at 10:00 pm) when you can't see anything hours after something happened because as if being "live" actually makes the story more exciting. Curiously channel 5 actually does news but for some reason it's fatiguing to watch. I think they have an alarmist tone and they kind of hammer you with one story after another. Even though it theory it's what I want, I can't watch it.

It's weird because there's actually more stories and content out there they could be tapping into and they just don't seem to have a clue. Like last night channel 4, they attempted to cover the story about student loan interest rates doubling... they go out to the U. and record what people are saying? First, we all know what people are going to say so there's no point, unless you find three people who say they want to pay higher interest rates and think it's a great idea you're wasting eveyone's time. Second, you end up with a story almost completely devoid of information. Aside from vague references to a disagreement in congress we have no idea why this actually happening. Why in the world would anyone think they were covering a story this way? They got one decontextualized quote from Franken and one from Kline, but that was just more confusing. I don't get it.