As the digital age has ushered in a new era in journalism, some mediums of old have not maintained their followership. Printed newspapers are not as widely read or circulated as they once were, and newsrooms everywhere have downsized on their departments for printed press. However, according to the 2015 State of the News Media report from the Pew Research Center, not all old media platforms are seeing a decline. On the contrary, the report revealed that local television news saw an increase in viewership in every time slot, except for the 11 p.m. news.
The most drastic increases were seen in the 4:30 a.m. and 7 p.m. time slots, which are not traditionally local tv’s highest viewing times. In an article for adweek.com’s TVSpy, Kevin Eck attributes the shift in viewership to time that viewers are commuting to and from work. However, the overall trend of increased viewership may also be due in part to the fact that 2014 was an election year.
Pew Research Center released another study, shortly before the releasing the State of the News Media report, which that local television news still has a large presence among the assortment of ways that people now get their news. The study looked in depth at the media markets in Denver, Macon, and Sioux City, and compared the three. In all three cities, the majority of people relied on local television news.
What neither of the studies overtly explain is why people still gravitate to local television news. It could be that people turn to local television news because it is what they have always done. However, this would not account for most millennials who view local television regularly, as that generation has grown up with news being accessible through a wider variety of mediums than any generation before them. It could be that local television maintains and continues to increase its viewership because so many local print news sources are scaling back on their production and circulation, so those who would be reading the daily newspaper are now turning to their local television channels. However, many formerly print dominant publications have now switched to being dominantly digital, and the stories that could be seen before in newspapers, can now be viewed online for free.
The best clue I found as to why people turn to local television news can be found in the Pew Research Center’s study on Denver, Macon, and Sioux City. According to the study, the majority of stories given on the news are less than two minutes long, and traffic updates, weather reports, and sports updates account for only about a third of the air-time. Therefore, in a 30 minute news show, approximately 20 minutes are devoted to local news stories that are less than two minutes long. By watching local news channels, viewers can get a quick summary of each story and can hear about it all in one place. In other mediums, the reader has to pick what they want to read, spend five to 10 minutes reading the story, and then pick another story to read once finished in order to find out all of the same information they would hear on the news. In a market where speed is valued, the ability to get all of the day’s news in 30 minutes is crucial. In addition, listening to the news allows one to multitask, while reading does not as much. One can listen to the 7 p.m. news while making dinner or helping their kids with homework. To read something requires far more attention.
It is clear that the media landscape is changing. Many news sources and audiences are trending towards digital production and consumption of news. Some mediums are seeing serious downward trends while others are seeing surges. However some, such as local television news, have remained stable with steady increases over the years. This steady upward trend is indicative of an older medium with real staying power that other mediums may not have. While some mediums are downsizing and scaling back, it is clear that local television news is here to stay as an important component in the myriad of sources people use in their daily lives.