Given the Importance of Local News to the Bottom Line of Most TV Stations, the Latest Pew Research Center’s Report on News Is a Major Wake-Up Call

Mar 19, 2013  •  Post A Comment

The latest report on the state of local TV news by the well-respected non-partisan Pew Research Center issues this warning: “With younger people tuning out local newscasts, there is growing concern that local TV news may be facing some of the financial challenges that have already battered the newspaper industry. And even as local TV newscasts seem to be doubling down on sports, traffic and weather, there are an ever increasing number of digital sources outside of television that provide that kind of information on demand.”

As a story about the Pew report in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel puts it, "Local television stations are offering more newscasts but less news, according to a survey of stations in four cities, including Milwaukee."

The article also notes, "According to the Pew report, 31% of viewers surveyed say they deserted a news outlet because it ‘no longer provides the news and information they had grown accustomed to.’ And the primary concern of people who gave up on an outlet cited ‘quality.’ "

The Journal Sentinel story says that the "Pew Research Center ‘State of the News Media’ report released Monday, March 18, 2013, concluded that an increase in the number of local TV newscasts means that ‘editorial resources are being stretched thinner,’ and that stations are changing the types of stories they are reporting to compensate. And it drew a direct correlation between changes ‘on the content side’ to declining advertising revenue."

One positive note in the Pew study is is that TV remains the top source of news for consumers.

The Journal Sentinel article adds, "In a segment of the Pew report entitled ‘Shrinking Pains,’ it was noted that individual story lengths have shortened – only 20% exceeded one minute – and that time spent on edited packages decreased also 20%. The average edited package was 75 seconds long, the average live report was 44 seconds, and the average news anchor voice-over was 25 seconds.

"Overall, the report concluded, that ‘in-depth enterprising reporting is on the downswing.’ The result – that 40% of local TV news time is consumed by sports, traffic and weather – will be no surprise to viewers in Milwaukee who may feel inundated with such coverage. These elements saw a 25% increase since a 2005 survey."

The article explained that "The survey sampled 24 news broadcasts, morning and evening, 1,055 stories and more than 15 hours of programming.

"Besides Milwaukee, the [local] markets sampled were Pittsburgh, Houston and Bend, Ore. The four cities represent various sized markets, said Amy Mitchell, an author of the report and acting director of the Pew Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism."

Besides the summary article in the Journal Sentinel, we urge you to read both the entire Pew report on local TV news — to do that, please click on the link in the first sentence of this item, above — and the Pew Center’s full report on the state of news in general in 2013, which can be found if you click here.


  1. What I see on local news is….
    — reporters repeat the lead-in from the anchor, without adding any new information
    — unless there is any kind of a news conference, most sound-bites are from passers-by and add little or nothing to the story
    — Viewer Submitted Video seems to be the default video to a story….or not. How many cute pictures of snow does any local newscast have to show?
    Gone is so much of the investigation, the digging, the writing. Sadly.

  2. Viewers of broadcast “news” have become much more aware of political bias in reporting both local and national stories. This has alienated 50% of potential viewers. At the same time our smart phones deliver traffic, weather and news in real time and on demand. The core product is news and it is no longer being delivered fairly or well. Some broadcasters seem to have a better budget for bumper music and graphics than for reporters. And the reporters all feel that their opinion is as important as delivering the facts. I have not watched a TV newscast in a very long time without being involved in another activity at the same time. The dedicated focus viewers once gave to news is long gone.

  3. What Local TV News?
    If they’re numbers are going down, it’s their own fault.
    The so-called writing is terrible. Where is the “who-what-when-where & why?” Stories are half told, jumped away from and on to the next “item”, with more minutes in thirty taken up by station “News Promos” than actual full reporting of current news.
    It is obvious that all too often “News Directors” are either really Promotion Directors, or totally ignorant of what constitutes an informative newscast.
    So-called “management” takes a bow in this debacle too as they will, for the most part, lean towards making a fast dime versus putting down and nurturing roots in the community through their news operation.
    I put to you the question one of my professors asked the first day of college: What is news?
    Peter Bright

  4. You are both correct. Local TV started cutting reporters 25 yrs. ago at the beginning of consolidation. Those pesky investigative reports that were the most costly went first.
    Filler of weather and traffic instead of taking the time to flesh out an important story because those are boring.
    When big stories are there, you are right, they inject their own opinion instead of seeking out both sides of a story.
    Bring back the Fairness Doctrine and people will then get both sides without opinion. It was the best self-policing system ever implemented and worked very well.

  5. With so much pressure on the bottom line, local news is no longer news. To keep costs under control, veteran journalists are downsized and replaced by youngsters who think the 5W’s is a boy band, but they work cheap. Local newscasts are also used to shill for network shows and local businesses, all of which are packaged to appear as news stories, however it’s pure checkbook journalism. Is there any wonder why no one’s watching?

Your Comment

Email (will not be published)