What Viewers Want (And Don’t Want) From Local News

Local television news operations know what viewers want.  They pay consultants to put together focus groups and do research and share that information with the station management.  Sometimes focus groups are NOT consulted and research is NOT done but hey if the big boy markets are doing it, then it must be good.  That’s why so many newscast across the country are doing the same thing and so many newscasts look the same.  But wait, a newspaper columnist in Pittsburgh, PA asked readers what they expected from local news.  It comes as no surprise that some of this goes against the conventional wisdom of what stations are now doing.

The full article which was posted in Shoptalk can be found at this newspaper website.  It makes for interesting reading even if some of the feedback is market specific for Pittsburgh.    For those of you not interested in going to the website, here are some of the highlights:

Too much news time:“In that short half-hour we were able get a complete rundown of the day’s stories,” McCracken wrote in his e-mail. “Perfect! Now, stations such as KDKA drag out the local evening news for three hours. They either go over the same story over and over again or they ‘tease’ you to stay tuned for another hour for a report that you may be interested in. I am not naive. I understand that the stations are a business and all of this is dollars to them. However, for myself, a half-an-hour summary with no fluff is all that I am looking for.”

Too many teases; too much hype:“We watch the news to be informed and not to be asked questions about a story that is coming up,” wrote Bob Kress, 59, of Wexford. “Please quit telling me over and over what you are going to tell me at 6 o’clock,” wrote H. Lessman, 80, of O’Hara. “Just tell me.” Too much weather:Although I’m sure local stations have reams of research and ratings spikes that prove viewers love weather news, those who responded to my query were almost all annoyed by weather hype:

Too many stories with no relevance to the average viewer:As R. Romagni noted, “News is not a story about someone’s poodle that’s found its way home or a front porch collapsing in Millvale.”Viewers are divided on whether local newscasts should carry national or international news. Some want a broader perspective (“Tell me what is going on in the world. It will help me decide if I want to watch the expanded world news,” wrote Michael Hellman, 51, of Morningside). Others do not, particularly if they believe it has no relevance to Pittsburghers. (“Forget the ’10 dead in a three-car pileup’ promos when the wreck happened in Kansas,” wrote Cheri Cunningham of Brookline).

 Too many references to Web sites:“The phrase that sends me through the roof is, ‘If you want to know more about this subject log on to our Web site …’ Does that mean, ‘You poor slobs who don’t have a computer don’t deserve to find out anything more’?” wrote Carole Berry, 71, of Bethel Park. “The reason I turn on the news is to hear the full story, not to be sent to another source. And is this a good thing for the TV news industry? Perhaps we will just log on to the Web site and not turn on the TV news anymore.”

In fairness to TV stations, I think there is value in offering extra information online. The problem is when viewers feel like they’re not getting the whole story from the newscast. Perhaps TV stations need to find a way to better communicate Web extras to viewers.

I’m sure some manager will defend their research as they are merely giving viewers what research says they want.  I will admit there is no easy answer on this but local TV news is still witnessing viewers slipping away.  And as for the research that creates the perfect newscast, wasn’t it extensive research and focus groups that helped create the perfect car back in the day.  They called that car the Edsel.

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4 Comments on “What Viewers Want (And Don’t Want) From Local News”

  1. Doug J. Says:

    Part of the problem with surveys is that people respond with what they “think” they should say they want, not what they really want. They say they want in depth stories about important stuff, but they’re drawn by the blinky blue lights of crime coverage on TV, much in the same way they are when see a traffic accident on the road and slow down to watch.

    There’s more than one avenue for news on TV. If people want more international, they can search out BBC or CNN International, if it’s on their cable. Most viewers tune out when that kind of coverage is on local or network news. Watch ABC’s “World News” and see how much actual “world” news you see; it won’t be much.

    And yes, the Edsel was a highly researched car; but take it from someone whose dad owned one; they weren’t built very well, and that had as much to do with the model’s eventual failure. Ours caught fire (yes, fire) while we were driving cross country from Ohio to New Mexico. Ford didn’t put enough into the mechanics of the car. The push-button transmission didn’t work well either. Sure, it was butt ugly too.

  2. Bob Says:

    Every now and then I’m still asked to speak with journalism students. I remind them that news used to be about what was important to viewers and their community. Today, research into what viewers say they want to see drives what little content you find on today’s broadcast news. I suppose it’s still journalism but it’s of a different sort. The most salacious and shocking has replaced the most important and relevant.

  3. Ready Camera One, Take Two Says:

    Consider local news the reverse of the way your mom used to feed you…you want candy but your mom gives you vegetables. News gives us candy but we want vegetables. Now we’re big, fat storehouses of useless information. Would a News Director or GM somewhere PUH-LEEEZ stand up and tell the consultants to take a hike and stop the senseless senselessness of the current state of local news!!!!! Any newscast that begins with “a shooting in (insert part of town here)” or any other “dog bites man” story I’m gone immediately…I’m off to Modern Marvels on the History Channel. Calgon take me awaaaaayy!

  4. Vince Says:

    Very very unhappy with watching local news last night on the Original Bill Burns Television Station. They started by realy playing the big story of the death of the Quarter Back MCNAIR. Ok if you are a sports buff or not you want to hear and watch the LEAD story that KDKA promised??? No way. they took us around to every small story around Pittsburgh. They start off by telling you the LEAD story. No way they keep the lead story for the very very last in the broadcast? They went from local coverage of the Highland Park ZOO all around Pittsburgh. Here you are ladies and gentleman this is your Eleven O Clock News in all its glory. They get you all set of the Number One Story and keep you in suspense to hear about the headlines to the very very end.?? I will make it a point to switch to another station in Pittsburgh. Sort of like waiting for a big sensational news story and having to watch anything and everything that has nothing to do with the Lead Story??? What a Joke. Who ever sets up the NEWS the Station Manager and all the staff need to sit down and figure out why the Ratings keep getting worse??? You start off with a LEAD NEWS STORY go right in to that Story.


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