Balancing Local And National News

We all know this, right?  Everybody picks a local story over a national story - if there’s a tie vote for what story leads a newscast, gets prominent play on a website/app, or gets posted on social.

It’s the rest of the hours and hours of news and digital postings that create issues. Here’s what I believe:

  • BREAKING national/int’l beats OLD LOCAL.
  • OLD LOCAL beats OLD NATIONAL/INT’L.
  • OLD NATIONAL/INT’L is a really bad thing for newscasts, but it’s everywhere.

Here’s the thinking behind these statements:

BREAKING national/int’l beats OLD LOCAL: 

We have a lot of clients with LIVE DESKS/BREAKING NEWS CENTERS/ALERT CENTERS.  Most started in the mornings, but now they’ve spread to afternoons, and I’ve spotted one on a competitor at 11 pm.  These venues mostly report on national/int’l news.

But the question often comes up: do viewers really care about secondary stories that are not LOCAL?  And the answer is NEW MATTERS.  It doesn’t matter more than BIG LOCAL STORIES - but NEW MATTERS when many of the other stories in the newscast are getting old and repetitive.  And the rate at which stories gets OLD is at an all-time high and growing.

So yes, the earthquake in Chile, the flood in Italy, and the fire in Cleveland may not be more important than a local crime, council vote, or highway expansion - but if those local stories are already playing over and over without being advanced, then breaking national/int’l is a gift.

OLD LOCAL beats OLD NATIONAL/INT’L:

You look at that statement, and say “what….who wants any old news?”  Wish it weren’t true, but OLD NEWS happens.  And sometimes OLD NATIONAL/INT’L gets picked over OLD LOCAL because some national stories are sexier than finding a fresh topper to a local story on bike trails.   But on behalf of the viewers - pick bike trails instead of the “viral” video that everyone saw on YouTube. 

There are lots of places viewers find national stories, there are fewer places to find local stories - and you might be one of two or three local choices viewers make. So…make sure you understand they’re getting DIGESTS of national stories elsewhere-online or on cable.  Be the breaking national/int’l station - but don’t be the station for a national/int’l digest of news.  Which brings us to this….

OLD NATIONAL/INT’L is a really bad thing for local newscasts - but it’s everywhere:

This is not as obvious as it may sound. 

No one would disagree with the “bad thing for local news” - but monitor local newscasts as much as I do, and you’d realize it’s “everywhere.”  There are numerous rifts of national/int’l stories - mostly in secondary news blocks - that flood local news.  Back to back they come - national/int’l stories that were headlines from yesterday, from earlier today, from hours and hours ago.  They run together - I guess because we still like grouping stories (which is old school) - and they contain the same information someone read online or on their app - or saw on a national newscasts.  These stories are poison to local newscasts and digital posts - to the point they could kill us.

In a world where news is ubiquitous, local news must narrow its promise and its expertise.  News on local venues should be either Breaking.  Be local.  Or, be both.

FOOTNOTE TO THE RANT:

So when it’s time to go big on a national/int’l story:  Win it.  Viewers in national studies for cable news actually TRUST LOCAL NEWS over NATIONAL to cover anything, including national/int’l stories.

A “WIN” is about getting to WHAT’S NEW.  Too many times I’ve seen stations go to a network reporter who merely recaps that day, the event.  You can do that on your own.  Go to a reporter on the scene for:

  • THE LATEST
  • RARE INSIGHT
  • A FEEL FOR WHAT’S LIKE TO BE THERE
  • NOT A RECAP

There will remain a role going forward for local news stations to be the go-to place for viewers for national/int’l coverage - on TV and on digital.  Their decision to go to you will be based on your decision and ability to win the story.