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Good Night Good Luck Does TV News Still Matter





? Copyright (c) 2009 Karen Friedman Enterprises, Inc.

As a former TV news reporter and anchor, I often wonder whether TV news still matters. My first thought is usually "Of course it does." However, perhaps a better question in this age of social media is "Does TV news matter as much as it once did?" Research suggests it does not.

According to data from Nielsen Media Research, viewership on the three evening network news programs has steadily declined over the past 25 years, falling by more than 1 million viewers each year translating into millions of dollars in lost annual revenue. The 2009 Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism's State of the News Media annual report says that local news staffs, already too small to adequately cover their communities, are being cut at unprecedented rates. As a result, this caused local revenues to fall by a surprising 7 percent in an election yearand ratings continue to drop. Only cable news is flourishing. As previous Pew annual reports have shown, new media  including the Internet, blogs, podcasts and video sharing  is rapidly becoming mainstream media. Pew cited one survey stating that the number of Americans who say they found "most of their national and international news" online increased 67 percent in the past four years.

While the growth in online news consumption cut across all age groups, it was fueled by young people. It appears that the limitations of three main channels and a dinner-hour time slot are to blame. Even an unofficial survey that I conducted of my college-bound son's friends with short attention spans revealed that if they want news, they'd rather obtain it online, without commercials and with the ability to move on when they lose interest. Rick Williams, executive producer at WPVI-ABC TV in Philadelphia, agrees. Williams says that because younger viewers get most of their information from the Web, it is critical to cross-promote news between the TV and Web platforms. That means streaming news events live and carrying breaking stories on the station Web site so that viewers don't have to wait until the evening broadcasts. To do this, many stations have hired producers who do nothing but create Web content, update stories online, produce video for Web sites and create breaking-news alerts that are sent to subscribers' cell phones and e-mail. As a result, Williams says that WPVI is probably in better shape than most stations because it has focused attention on viewer habits, and also maintained a loyal audience who has followed the same anchor for more than 30 years. "Our ratings are still strong, but clearly not as strong as back in the day," says Williams. "Overall TV viewing is down, especially given you can now watch what you want to watch when you want to watch it." He says that many stations "have all but turned out the lights in their newsrooms and have laid off scads of people" because they can share video and use more canned pieces from other content providers. However, he stresses that TV news, especially local news, is still relevant for many stations around the country, especially regarding weather reporting. Williams says that even though you can click on many Web sites for a quick update, local weather reports remain big drivers for TV news viewers.

Additionally, as lifestyles change and people start their days earlier, morning news programs are also growing. About 40 years ago, viewers only had three channels to choose from. As cable grew, more channels were offered. As the Internet exploded, more videos started popping up on the Web, generating millions of hits and prompting creators to improve quality. Combine this explosion with "friending" on Facebook, "tweeting" on Twitter, blogging, podcasts and "linking" to one another on LinkedIn, and it's easy to understand why TV news is no longer the gold standard for delivering and receiving information. TV stations are now having the same experience as newsrooms: award-winning journalists and broadcast executives are fleeing TV stations to begin alternative news sites that provide investigative reporting, tap freelance journalists for content and offer long, in-depth pieces that are tough to find in today's revenue-challenged TV newsrooms.

Media and political consultant Larry Ceisler says that the financial pressure on local news is forcing those operations to air more voiceovers and use fewer reporters. "The fact that reporters are younger and less experienced in their markets is a detriment." Ceisler says because money is tight, many newsrooms can't afford to hire experienced reporter and producer staffs who are familiar with the market where they work. Ceisler adds that the quality of reporting has diminished, and he believes that the days when local TV was a PR expert's most important task is over. "It is always good for the client, when they have an event, to see cameras," he says, "but cameras are becoming more like props for clients. Bottom line, TV just does not have the impact it once did." While this may be true, other

PR professionals believe that TV is a convenient and effortless way to stay on top of what's happening in the world, especially for older people who are not as computer savvy. "When you consider that more people [use] TVs than computers to access news online, [then] the role and continued value of TV news becomes more apparent," says Lori Neuman, communications manager for NRG Energy. She adds that TV news speaks to and reaches all audiences. It's still an important vehicle to get your message out, Neuman says.

Former major market television news reporter turned media and crisis consultant Rick Amme believes TV news is actually more relevant than it's ever been and credits You Tube, the popular video sharing website frequented by users from around the world who upload and share video clips. Amme cites a Fortune 100 client who just a few years ago told him she was much more concerned about print media because it could be replicated and circulated much more easily than broadcast media. In Amme's opinion, You Tube has changed that entirely. "TV news has now become potential source material for good or bad news and the viral videos can have a more powerful visceral impact on many different audiences."

As for my own opinion following two decades as a television news reporter and anchor, I also believe TV news, especially local news, will remain relevant to people who want to know what's happening in their own backyard. Despite the steady decline of viewers, Pew also reports approximately two-thirds of Americans say they still get their news from their local television stations. Although newsrooms across the country are cutting salaries, staff and merging operations to cut costs, many continue adding additional newscasts in an effort to remain profitable as news programming can account for nearly half of a station's overall revenue.

Like any good product, TV news must strive to remain relevant by continuing to beef up web presence and attract younger viewers. But I also believe TV news must consistently differentiate itself by doing what it does best which is broadcasting world events and Live breaking news in a way that only television cameras can capture.


About Author Karen Friedman :

Karen Friedman is an international communications coach and a veteran award winning television reporter who helps business professionals, spokespeople and celebrities shine in every interview, appearance and presentation. President, Karen Friedman Enterprises and co-author of Speaking of Success, she is frequently quoted by publications including the Wall Street Journal and New York Times. Details: <a href="http://www.karenfriedman.com" target="_blank">http://www.karenfriedman.com</a>


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Article Added on Sunday, July 19, 2009
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