|By the Project for Excellence in Journalism
For years, local TV had a special place in the public heart.
In 2004, we found signs of chinks in that armor. Local news’s credibility fell and was now equal with network TV news.
In 2005, there were others signs of general favorability for local TV news organizations, though they didn’t necessarily didn’t stand out above other news media.
A survey by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press found that 79% of Americans said they had a favorable view of local TV news, which put it ahead of most other news media and on a par with cable news. Only local newspapers ranked higher (80%).1
But that was four points lower than the percentage of Americans who had a favorable view of local TV news four years earlier.
Cable news and national newspapers fell more, but network news and local newspapers had both retained more of their support over the last four years.
Still, when matched with the declines in “believability” found in 2004, the trend lines for local news were down.
The same survey had some better news for local TV news. Over all, Americans thought local news was the most factual of all the media. A full 61% of Americans found that it “mostly reports the facts about news events.”2 That compares favorably to the 53% who considered network news mostly factual, and 45% who thought so about cable.
And what is it people like about local news? People who were interviewed after answering the same survey tended to say they liked that it was “local,” that it kept them “connected to the community” and that it was “current, up to date.”3 Thus, the fact that local TV news is on so often, making it more convenient and presumably late breaking, is something viewers respond to.
What is missing in this picture relates to the future. With local TV news audiences dropping, can we learn anything from survey data about why? Is it simply that people have more choices, or is there something about what local TV news offers? Would more people watch if local TV news had lower profit expectations, spent more on news gathering, did more enterprise, leaned less heavily on crime news, or made other changes?
Since those questions are hypothetical, we may never have the answers.
1. Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, “Public More critical of Press but Goodwill Persists: Online Newspaper Readership Countering Print Losses,” June 26, 2005. Online at: http://people-press.org/reports/display.php3?ReportID=248