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Local TV – Intro


By the Project for Excellence in Journalism

Local TV news, long America’s most popular information medium, is hardly proving immune to the revolution changing journalism.

In 2006, audiences appeared to be dropping for newscasts across all time periods during the day — even mornings, which had been growing. That dampened the hopes raised in earlier years that the hemorrhage in viewers had stabilized.

Stations have responded by adding more programs and changing when they air. Some have experimented with putting the news on later in the evening, abandoning the late afternoon. Others have launched shows in mid-morning, after the networks have gone off the air. The number of news hours each day, according to industry data, is at record highs.

Still other stations are continuing to broadcast news for multiple stations from a single newsroom, an effort that saves money but raises questions about localism and stretching people thin.

Elsewhere, however, there are signs that another challenge to newsrooms may have eased — cutting newsroom budgets. The budget-tightening seen in earlier years — which news directors worried only accelerated audience declines — was not as evident as before.

The local TV news business remains robust financially, but a fundamental concern looms. If audiences are dropping, and there are limits to how much more news programming can be added, there comes a point where financial growth becomes difficult.

In 2006, the political advertising wars provided a boost, one that TV owners and analysts expect to grow even more important as the 2008 presidential campaign approaches.

There are signs that the local TV news industry is at long last beginning to take the Web more seriously. It has been among the last of the traditional media to do so. We have found in past years that some Web sites were more advertorial than news in their content. That, finally, may be changing.

But the pressures on stations to build Web sites, add content to them, and transform production to high definition, all tax budgets — and much of that, insiders say, is coming out of news.

Is the public noticing any change? The answer seems to be a qualified yes. Audiences appreciate that local TV news is largely opinion-free and fact-heavy. But more people are worried about advertiser influence and video press releases passing as news. And by large numbers Americans think most local TV news is all the same. If TV stations are innovating or improving their journalism, most viewers say they haven’t noticed it.