Changing Local News

Busy day in Utica, New York.

When I lived in the mountains of Upstate New York in the early 80’s, we didn’t get to watch much TV. Unless you lived in a lucky spot — or had a very tall rotating antenna — you got zero reception. Zero. Big C-band satellite dishes? That cost a few thousand dollars, which I didn’t have. When I did get a signal, I had one or two stations from Albany, and one from Utica.  The Utica station had three guys presenting the local news — all named Bill.

Local news departments are taking a hit in smaller markets. Take WYOU in the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton market. Broadcasting & Cable reports they’re shutting down:

The end of local news came quickly at WYOU in northeastern Pennsylvania. On the afternoon of Friday, April 3, the station announced that its news department had been dismissed, and that day’s newscasts would be the station’s last. “The viewers have spoken, letting us know that WYOU is the station they rely on for entertainment,” Dennis Thatcher, EVP/COO of station owner Mission Broadcasting, spun in a statement.

WYOU’s news ratings, or lack thereof, had spoken as well, with its household ratings consistently in the 1s. WYOU’s news, which was produced by Nexstar’s WBRE, clearly was not reaching much of an audience in Wilkes Barre-Scranton.

“It’s not like we weren’t trying,” says Thatcher, reeling off a list of attempts to invigorate local news. “I’m not so sure it came down to people not liking WYOU news. They just like WBRE’s and WNEP’s better.”

Operating in the #54 DMA, the CBS affiliate may be the highest profile station to scrap news in years, a move that saves Nexstar about $900,000 annually. But indications are it won’t be the last.

With local television going through the worst slump of most any broadcasting veteran’s career, station insiders say numerous groups are taking a hard look at underperforming news departments. While local news represents a hefty chunk of revenue, it increasingly doesn’t pay to keep a fourth-place outfit afloat.

Local TV news, like local newspapers, is something people will miss dearly if it went away.  Stations need to find a way to keep people tuned in, night after night. Or change the way you reach out to your audience. The station in Utica mentioned above is WKTV and they’ve come a long way since I watched last. You can find them  on Facebook and Twitter, too.

Change the way you present the news to your audience. Having your guests pass out on the air, however,  is not the way to go…

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