Friday, March 02, 2007

More local news in less common places...

Now, after our diversity chat last week, I found this York Times article quite interesting. It's not really about diversity in the newsroom, but it is about smaller newsrooms doing big things for the community. Actually, there were a series of articles by different writers about how smaller stations are giving viewers "more local" news than mainstream news channels.

The articles talk about four stations specifically, all under the name of News 12: Connecticut, Westchester, Long Island and New Jersey.

Patrick Dolan, the news director at the Long Island station and the VP of the entire network said, “We think there’s a deep hunger for news of what’s happening in your own neighborhood that’s not being satisfied by other media outlets."

Is he right? First, audience. It seems strange that Dolan would say such a thing, especially since much research suggests people want much different things -- what some of us would call 'entertainment.' But yes, I have sometimes seen the strangest things on local news... things I wouldn't call news but useless filler.

Next, the news people. Now I think a lot of us like the idea of making it big. I'm no exception. I have dreams of being recognized for great things, yet I wonder how many people who are iconic journalists truly find their work rewarding. I think big-name reporters might have a difficult time breaking out of what we call daybook reporting because that's what their producers and directors want. Stuff that can be reported cheaply and easily.

I like what we do here at Medill... doing those stories no one else does but finding them newsworthy nonetheless.

Now here we have a small group of stations that engage in filling a 24-hour newshole each and every day. Where do we get the news from? As we've seen, many of the 24-hour cable news channels fill it with a lot of commentary. But this group seems genuinely devoted to serving the local community, as depicted by the NYT article.

The most interesting thing to me was a statistic in the article. Last fall, Nielsen Media Research asked more than 1,100 cable households, "When a major event occurs in your area, which one television channel are you most likely to tune to first for information?" This is how the numbers came out:

35.6 percent News 12
9.5 percent Channel 4
9.6 percent Channel 7

According to Nielsen figures, Channels 4 and 7 were the two top stations in New York. Yet 35.6 percent of households would turn to News 12 first when a major event happens? How strange is that? And the article says that, ten years earlier, only 14.3 perent had chosen News 12. If this survey is accurate, the station's credibility has risen incredibly.

But where have mainstream media news channels gone in that category? I think most of us would agree that recent polls don't look so good there. So what are we doing wrong? I'm not so sure there's any easy question to that, but I have a hunch that it might have to do with money.

The article says that Cablevision refused to say whether the stations are profitable. But whether they're profitable or not, I'd be interested in seeing what sorts of stories they do and how what they do is so different from what networks do.



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