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Decline of Newspapers Presents Opportunity for Local TV

November 14th, 2019   ||    by Susan Kuchinskas

As of this past September, Starbucks stopped selling newspapers in its stores, as reported by USA Today. A Starbucks spokesperson said the decision was due to poor sales of the papers in its 8,600 US stores. But the loss of this retail outlet will itself add to the overall decline of newspapers.

The New York Times editor Dean Baquet recently told a conference audience that “most local newspapers in America are going to die in the next five years, except for the ones that have been bought by a local billionaire,” according to The Boston Globe.

The Pew Research Center echoed the dire news about the decline of newspapers, estimating the total US daily newspaper weekday print circulation decreased 12 percent, while Sunday print circulation decreased 13 percent.

With what seems like an inevitable decline of newspapers, where will people get local news? We think this is a responsibility and an opportunity for TV stations.

Will Local TV News Step Up?

Local stations are already a preferred news source. A consumer survey conducted by Videa found that 62 percent of respondents trust local news media more than national, and many people feel loyal to local news anchors and reporters.

But stations shouldn’t rest easy. While local TV is still trusted, viewership mirrors the decline of newspapers, although not as precipitously, according to Nieman Lab.

Now is the time to up the game by bulking up web content, investing in over-the-top (OTT) services, and experimenting with mobile apps and even augmented (AR) or virtual reality (VR).

To illustrate this, Nieman Reports profiled Raleigh’s WRAL-TV, a national leader in innovation. WRAL livestreams content on its website and has OTT apps for the Roku, Amazon Fire, Apple TV, and Chromecast platforms. OTT offerings provide livestreams of local events and newscasts, as well as access to archived content.

It even has its own AR/VR studio that integrates remote footage or virtual sets into news programming. For example, AR seemed to place news anchors covering the Winter Olympics into Pyongchang.

According to Nieman Reports, WRAL is finding new audiences via streaming, while watching live news via apps is popular. And the AR/VR studio has provided a new revenue stream: the station rents it to production companies.

Identifying Best Practices for Local Innovation

Station owners and managers must be risk-averse. There are plenty of failed new-journalism initiatives. So, Northeastern University’s School of Journalism has a project called Reinventing Local TV News that partners with a few television stations to test out nontraditional news storytelling. The key to this initiative is that they’ll test both original and jazzed-up versions of the news in-market to see how audiences respond.

This and similar initiatives from the Knight-Cronkite News Lab and others aim to share best practices so that individual stations don’t need to reinvent the wheel—or spin their wheels on reinvention projects that don’t pay off.

Knight-Cronkite News Lab has already published a series of “better practices.” For example, one article listed “7 Lessons for Newsrooms From the Tech Platform Companies,” things that journalists could learn from Facebook, Yelp, and their ilk. It’s notable that the seven lessons deal more with culture than practice or technology.

As local stations step up innovation and experiment with new ways to package and deliver content, they likely need to rethink how they communicate internally.

The newspaper industry’s losses may be local TV’s gain—but only if stations seize this opportunity by reinventing themselves.

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