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A female newscaster on set illustrates the concept of local news anchor loyalty

Local News Anchor Loyalty Is Key to Station Success

June 20th, 2018   ||    by Susan Kuchinskas

Like every TV station, WRAL, an NBC affiliate in Raleigh’s Research Triangle area, is in a never-ending fight for viewers with its two competitors. Could local news anchor loyalty be the key to staying on top?

While its newscasts remained tops in overall viewership for all news timeslots, from 2016 to 2017 WRAL showed losses in all morning slots, as well as at noon, 5 p.m., 5:30 p.m., 6 p.m., and 11 p.m.—and the viewers it lost were picked up by Disney-owned WTVD, according to the News & Observer.

Why would local news anchor loyalty be at issue here? In 2017, WRAL lost three news anchors, a reporter, and a meteorologist. While the station manager insists these departures had no effect on the station’s news ratings, you do have to wonder: How important are the familiar faces that deliver both good and bad news with authority and empathy?

Local Is About Loyalty

News anchor loyalty could be critical to overall viewer loyalty, according to CJ&N. The media research company pointed out that local news staffers are different than the Diane Sawyers and David Muirs of the world. While national news stars have to be extremely polished, local reporters can be a bit quirky, with regional accents or other signs of their local residence. These quirks make them highly relatable.

A case in point is Birmingham, Alabama meteorologist James Spann. Spann, who appears on ABC 33/40, regularly visits local schools to teach kids about weather science, according to Two Eighty Lifestyle. He also runs a Facebook page with live local weather, as well as a blog and a podcast. He even has his own bobblehead, which recently sold on eBay.

This kind of community presence is invaluable, leading to local news anchor loyalty that can translate into ratings and ad dollars.

When Newscasters Take the Spotlight

Some local TV stations do understand the importance of news anchor loyalty and are taking steps to develop it. For example, almost two years ago, Denver’s KUSA turned to an unabashedly personality-driven format for its 6 p.m. newscast. Kyle Clark, host of Next with Kyle Clark, focuses on local stories that shy away from “commodity news,” according to 5280. He may do an investigative report on warrantless searches of low-income housing and then interview a seven-year-old about tortoise hibernation habits. Each show includes a segment on the “most Colorado thing” Clark saw that day.

While Next’s ratings are down 39 percent from the traditional newscast it replaced, 75 percent of its audience is new to the 6 o’clock newscast. And gaining new viewers is key to bolstering the viability of local news.

The trust viewers have for local reporters can also translate to the ability to break news that national reporters can’t. When WVUE-TV’s Lee Zurik was investigating drug prices in New Orleans, a pharmacist mentioned to him that some insurance companies were charging co-pays that made the drugs cost more than they would without insurance.

Zurik’s resulting story gained national attention and sparked class-action lawsuits. But he never would’ve gotten the lead if his original source hadn’t trusted Zurik to keep him anonymous, Nieman Reports explained.

Just How Much Does It Matter?

A survey of local news viewers aged 25-54 by Geiger Associates found that almost half were very loyal to a station—and 22 percent of those were loyal because of the newscasters themselves, reported SpotsnDots.

When station managers nurture their talent, it pays off in news anchor loyalty—and that translates to a station that serves the community, not to mention better ratings and increased demand from advertisers.

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