A Survey: Does local news matter? Is it all about the medium?

A news sense is really a sense of what is important, what is vital, what has color and life – what people are interested in. That’s journalism.

Arthur Burton Rascoe, American Journalist

I’m sitting in a food court in downtown Atlanta on break from the Social Media Today Social Shake-Up Conference. It’s a collection of multimedia thought leaders, brand managers, CEOs, social media junkies and digital dorks. (I say with great affection!)

I’m here because like many, I’m going through a transition. I have been a television journalist for years working in local newsrooms across the country and most recently CNN. I love and believe in journalism. I love being an advocate for those who don’t have a voice or platform. I love telling stories.

Social media is a game changer for the Fourth Estate. With Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Google+, You Tube, Vine and whatever comes next the people have a platform. They have a voice…and they control it. When news breaks, citizen journalists are posting video and eyewitness accounts before news managers can even deploy their crews. Information is a currency no longer reserved for the traditional media.The need for traditional broadcast news is waning. Ratings are down and just this week Gallup released information showing mistrust is at an all-time low when it comes to mass media.

“Journalism” is trying to figure out its next evolution. So am I. The questions I often consider:

  • Is there really less interest in news or is lack of interest format-related?
  • Is there still a thirst for trusted, credible news organizations?
  • Are we telling the wrong stories?

That brings us to this week’s academic exercise on surveys.  I created a survey to examine the habits of news consumers, specifically local news consumers: Survey of Local News Consumer Habits

Using a snowball sample, my objectives are to:

  1. Gauge interest in local news
  2. Understand how people are consuming news and what their sources are
  3. Analyze social media’s role in local news
  4. Understand why people think local news is important or irrelevant

I am hoping to gain insight into whether it is the content or the medium that is affecting low news viewership on television. I started with a screening question to keep data focused solely on those who do consume local news. I included open-ended questions and comment fields in certain locations to learn where people are getting their news from. I also wanted to allow space for direct commentary on the value or lack of value in local television news. Analysis of my findings will be posted next week. To be continued…


14 thoughts on “A Survey: Does local news matter? Is it all about the medium?

  1. Interesting question. I think the answer is yes and yes. Television doesn’t capture the eyes it use to. And journalism is now democratic, noisy and less broadly relevant.

    Just this past Sunday morning, when we were coming home from church, my wife and I had a conversation about how little news means to our day to day lives. On Saturday her sisters had given her a hard time at yoga class because she doesn’t follow the news at all.

    Theresa is an educated and highly successful woman. She oversees all of the internal and external communication resources for AonHewitt Consulting and the compliance communications department. She is both too busy for the news and feels don’t really add anything to her life.

    While I agree with her about the relevance, I do read the Wall Street Journal everyday online. I never watch televised news. In fact, my television viewing is more likely to be streaming and watching DVR captured content. I can’t think of the last time I actually watched a show in real time. I think a lot of people, especially younger people never watch TV at the specified time. Of course, news loops like CNN, Fox and HLN understand this. But local news gets stale if recorded.

    I also resist most journalism for another reason. I think it is primarily hysteria/fear/anxiety mongering.

    One of the best descriptions of journalism I’ve come across comes from Annie Proulx’ The Shipping News. When training the newbie reporter on how to approach a story, the grizzled editor points out across the horizon and asks the reporter to describe what he sees, “There is a small cloud to the north east” “No,” the editor explains, you write “Gathering Storm Threatens Coast.” The trainee protested that the little cloud would probably just pass by without incident. The editor replied, “Then the next day the story is: Town Narrowly Escapes Disaster.”

    Most news stories are about things that suck or things to be afraid of. Life is too short to dwell on negative things that really don’t effect me. The attention and energy I have for life’s troubles I give to people within my own sphere of influence. There are always plenty of needy folks close at hand.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Rick for your candid comments. You and your wife (despite her fellow yogis opinions!) are not alone. It’s hard but necessary to hear for someone like me.
      There are many good people who work hard to put stories out into the ether because they believe in the story’s value.
      One of the greater challenges journalists face is viewer/consumer apathy (but that is a completely different story).
      Sadly I think local newsrooms succumb to the quick and easy get to fill a newscast and that is quite often–crime.
      Here in Atlanta, there is one station that is really trying to do advocacy journalism–holding the powerful accountable. You would presume people vested in their community and in the lives of those around them would take notice and value this. This station typically is third in the ratings. It’s unfortunate because I think they are trying…it just takes a while to get noticed…and somewhat to your point—get people like you and your wife to believe what they are doing, matters.


  2. Kelly – You asked some very relevant and timely questions. It is fascinating that social media has made everyone a “journalist” of some sort. I think news organizations need to tap into this powerful resource and use it as a method of connecting with today’s consumers. CNN created (as you probably know) their iReport – a service that allows users to post breaking news as they see it. This is an innovative tool for the collection of both local and national stories, and it helps the consumer feel empowered and important.

    Local news stations are still viewed by many to be reliable and consistent. However, most younger people that I know don’t check local news simply because they don’t care about current situations or they don’t “watch the news.” If a local news station wants to stay relevant, they will put their information where the consumers are. The consumers are on social media, and we have seen numerous local organizations become a powerful voice online as they share content.

    It will be interesting to see what results you get back from your survey – I will check back next week!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for commenting CJ. You touched on some good points…mainly apathy of the younger generation as it relates to local news. I am very curious to see if what you write is true—that we just need to be where they are. (ie: social media). I hope that is the case but I am not convinced. To your point–apathy is apathy. Will the medium (or in this case- device) make a difference? I don’t know. I guess we will see next week!
      Regarding iReport—I am and have always been a BIG fan of iReport. When it first evolved, many traditional journalists in the CNN newsroom were very leery of it. They felt it destroyed our credibility or brand to put untrained people on air. That attitude has since dissipated and iReport has ABSOLUTELY become a great tool for newsgathering.
      CNN’s iReporters are passionate and take their work very seriously. To your point, CNN has embraced them as well. It’s been a really fascinating tool to watch evolve.


  3. Kelly,

    I love your topic! I feel like the bigger national stories can muddle local news. Over the years I am guilty of having less and less interest in local news. When I was on campus at UF, I would read the local newspapers all the time, but not since graduating. In regards to your survey, I feel like it was very clear and concise. I have not used SurveyMonkey personally, but after taking your survey I feel like it may have more options than Qualtrics. I also noticed that SurveyMonkey’s surveys are much more visually appealing than that on Qualtrics. There was one question that tripped me up: “List in order by preference what network affiliates you watch for your local news? (Please indicate NBC, CBS, ABC, or FOX and what city you live in).” For me, I feel like it may be beneficial for your results to ask a separate question about city of residence, this way your survey takes can give you a single answer. I wanted to compliment you on your whole survey, especially your question about ranking social media news sources. This could be an assumption, but it looks like you organized them according to popularity and added an auto-fill option. I appreciated this because it shortened the amount of time spent on any one question.

    I am very interested in reading about your results; I could not agree more that “information is a currency no longer reserved for the traditional media.” I think that with technological advances in full swing, people are looking to find, create and share news themselves. In hearing this I feel some news outlets might get nervous they are becoming extinct, but the trick is to incorporate the old with the new. News managers can get ahead of news stories if they stay vigilant and or hire crawlers to scout for stories. Your Blog is well-developed and written with ease, your comfort level with blogging is evident. I would like to ask a question, more so related to WordPress, how do you add images without them looking awkwardly placed? Great Job!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Alicia! First…thanks for such a thorough and thoughtful reply and your observations/advice both on my survey and blog.
      First, the survey: Excellent point on the city question. I looked at that for a long time and wondered if that would be complicated. I should have done exactly what you said. Good lesson…as was this whole exercise considering I have never constructed a survey before!

      I think news managers are working very hard to get to their audience but you nailed it. There is a fear by many…and unfortunately, many that are the decision makers. Digital is far more embraced than it used to be. Websites were the first scary frontier for journalists—now it’s social media. I have always loved it and been an early-adopter but not all feel as I do. That’s one of the big reasons I am in this program. You can love it…but you need the credibility as well. I am truly hoping to change my industry!

      Blogging: Thank you. This is my first blog. I have used CNN’s CMS for basic stuff for my shows and used the CMS at Fox News in DC where I worked but this is my first time really diving in to a blog on Word Press. I think the best thing to do is to play around, test and preview. I find that creating galleries (even if only one image) gives you more control over positioning. Best thing to do is just create a post, add media, preview and go back and change. I use the thumbnail gallery a lot because it allows the reader to click and make the image bigger. Another great advantage to making all your images in a gallery (even if only 1 image) is that ability to click and make the image larger. If this is confusing I am happy to do a Google Hangout or Skype if you need more help! I am by no means an expert—just a trial and error person 🙂


  4. Hi Kelly,

    First of all, I love your writing style and the way you laid out your blog post, as well as the inclusion of visuals in the header area. It creates a sense of relevance and excitement to the topic. I also admired how you drew correlations between yourself and our industry, with both you and industry at a similar juncture. Very clever!

    You’ve selected an interesting topic for the US market. Anxious to see the results. In that regard, our markets are super different. In Trinidad & Tobago, our news hours which span from 6:30 – 8:00pm, attract the highest viewership across all channels, even more than prime-time. All brands that want to be seen by as large an audience as possible clamor to get into those TV ad spots. So a similar survey here would yield vastly different results. Wouldn’t it be fun to have a Group project where each classmate tests their individual markets with the exact same survey? Now THAT would be even more interesting!

    Looking forward to checking back in next week when your results are captured and analyzed. In the meantime, good luck and enjoy!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for the comments on my blog and YES!!! — I would love to see that survey side by side. Question for you—why do you think news matters so much there? Is it just for the ads? In order for those to be successful you have to have large viewership and it sounds like you do. Why do you think that is? I really would like to know!


  5. Hi Kelly: This trend in news watching isn’t at all surprising. We’ve seen a continuous drop in traditional television watching over all – although Dancing with the Stars and The Real Housewives franchise are still going strong. That said, your focus is on news. For me, I usually skip my local news but might tune in to catch the weather forecast in the evenings. If I do watch local, its ABC or NBC. I find the majority of news online. I might drop in on the New York Times online or login to Facebook for a continuous feed from the Huffington Post. I also look at Google News for a review of the hot headlines.I do think its important to note that when a breaking story does ensue, I will immediately tune in to the local or cable TV stations – depending on the issue.
    I’m very interested in reviewing the results of your survey. I’m particularly interested to view trends among different age groups.
    Your data will be helpful to me since I work at a local college and our PR team is actively engaged with our local media. We recently had a crisis with an animal issue and animal activists contacted our local media. An investigation ensued and the local station dropped the story for now, but it did make the paper. The reactions from the paper were mostly from baby boomers and older. I will be interested to see what you gather and see if it matches up with our constituency.
    Thanks for the post.


  6. Hi Kelly,

    First of all, when I started reading your blog entry I thought to myself how I love to read your work because you have this knack for painting a picture with your words. Then a few sentences later you said how you love telling stories and I have to say you do it with ease! I really do appreciate your work. 🙂

    Back to the survey. I think you posed some interesting questions. I believe that people are still hungry for local media, but the way they consume it is changing. If more journalists would take the approach of utilizing a combination of traditional media and social media, more people might engage. I will definitely check back next week to hear about the results!

    Thank you!


  7. Kelly,

    First off, nice blog you’ve got here ;)! Your questions are very interesting, and I’m anxious to see what you find out. To make an educated guess based on your first question, I’m willing to bet it’s a little bit of both. Television news is probably less engaging because, as exhibited by the trends in cinematography these days, we are constantly seeking out MORE STIMULI to keep us engaged. Perhaps more traditional news does not offer enough of that? Then the other part of it might be wrapped up in that “engaged” word. As we’ve learned audiences are becoming more and more active and they no longer choose to be channeled information in a one-way conversation. They want to be more actively involved in the process. I also have to wonder if another part of it would simply be a choice of pastimes? I mean, in the past we used to come home at the end of our days, have dinner, and watch TV. I’m not sure how many people do that now, but I sure don’t. In my home we all come home, have dinner, get all the chores and tasks done, and everybody finds their way to the internet-delivery-device of choice- (laptop, phone, tablet, or desktop PC). Maybe we’re simply just not tuning in anymore because we’d rather be engaging with one another elsewhere? We are also WAY MORE FOCUSED on ourselves and on telling our own personal stories out there on the internet, and so maybe we’re also kind of wrapped up in that on social media instead of paying attention to what is going on outside our social media social lives?

    The TV news is something that I don’t have much experience with, and therefore I’m really excited to learn from your survey findings :).

    Thanks for the great read, girl.


    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for your excitement but I think my survey is reflective about how people feel about TV news! (only around 60 respondents at this point).
      So I don’t have high expectations!
      Thanks as always for your observations. Your house…is much like mine. So therein lies the challenge. How do leaders in local newsrooms get people to engage?


  8. Pingback: RESULTS: A Survey: Does local news matter? Is it all about the Medium? | Social Chatter

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