Make Local TV News Relevant To Young Viewers
By Andrew Barr
The Baltimore Sun
I am 19 years old. I grew up with video games and a short attention span. I can call anyone, anywhere, on a cell phone. I can talk to my friends across the country online. I can find any information I want. I can watch anything I want. I can get news from any source I want. So, understandably, there is a reason why I do not watch the local news. It is worthless.
In a survey conducted by the Pew Charitable Trusts, nearly half of the local journalists polled said that local journalism is heading in the wrong direction. It is hard to understand how a strong diet of Martha Stewart, Michael Jackson and Robert Blake can be moving in the right direction.
In the Middle East, world-changing events are occurring that could legitimize the Bush administration's invasion of Iraq. At the same time, Southern Californians are encouraged to watch the news with a teaser about the world record for the most people on one surf board.
Local news is under pressure. Most local television news broadcasts are losing ratings. Twenty-four-hour cable news channels and the Internet bring news to people at a rate that local news cannot. By the time an event is reported on the local news, it is old.
CNN and Fox News bring viewers a lot of stories within a short time. These programs offer little in-depth discussion other than the daily afternoon shout-fests between pundits. A crawler at the bottom of the screen keeps the viewer informed of any information actually deemed too fluffy for the news. The local news cannot be as fast-paced as CNN, but for some reason it tries.
The "action news" format and gimmicks have taken over local news. Teasers, smiley twentysomething blondes and consumer investigations (which often wreak havoc on small businesses) are more a part of the news than international crisis. Content is an afterthought to most local news stations. Gimmicks can grab a viewer's attention. Only content will keep him.
A study conducted by Indiana University's Institute for Communication Research compared four news programs. Each program varied in story length and edit speed. Eighteen- to 22-year-olds preferred a faster-paced news cast. Other age groups showed no preference. Eighteen- to 22-year-olds also showed interest in longer stories that moved at a quick pace. Eighteen- to 22-year-olds retained the most information from long stories run at a quick pace. Again, there was little difference among older groups.
A format with a few long stories told at a quick pace could attract younger viewers without losing older ones. Instead of competing with 24-hour news channels, the local news could act as a supplement. Instead of reporting up to 25 stories in segments ranging from 30 seconds to a minute, the news could show six to 10 stories that run for two to three minutes.
More content does not necessarily make the news boring. Stories could use multiple graphics and dramatic footage and offer controversial opinions. Instead of only reporting, local news could interpret.
Interesting and developed stories could keep viewers throughout the half-hour. Improved quality in stories might help maintain a station's lead-in audience from network programming. After watching an hour-long network drama and anticipating an early rise the next morning, a viewer must be pulled in by something more than what he can flip through in a newspaper of browse on the Internet.
As the Internet and 24-hour cable news progress, local television news will become obsolete. Local television must offer something different and new to create incentive for people to sit down to watch at a specific time.
My generation does not lack quantity of information. We do, however, lack quality information. Give us content and analysis we cannot get from other news sources, and we will watch.
Andrew Barr is a sophomore at Claremont McKenna College in Claremont, Calif., studying government. This article first appeared in the Los Angeles Times, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.
HERE'S A THOUGHT:
Maybe local stations should hire 19 year-old Andrew Barr to do their consulting instead of paying through the nose for "big time" TV consultants who have nothing but cookie-cutter solutions, no vision and who are out of touch with the audience they think they are trying to attract.
And, that is all I'm going to say.
Don't get me started!