Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Americans have looked to their local stations for breaking news updates and information they can trust to keep their families safe. Even with the ubiquity of streaming services and social media, viewers tuned in to their local radio and TV stations for the news that directly impacts their communities. And for good reason – it’s the most trusted source of news for Americans.
“The pandemic really underlined the value of local news,” said Stacy Owen, president and general manager, KNTV/KSTS. “When it comes to a story like that, people want to know, what about my county, my city, my neighborhood? How is the virus tracking in my county? That’s the kind of information you only get from local news.”
Like many Americans, broadcasters were forced to work from home and adjust how they do their jobs to stay safe. Yet, they rose to challenge and embraced innovative ways to reach audiences, investigate stories and produce valuable journalism for their communities. TikTok channels, weather explainer videos and three anchor newscasts are just the start of how local stations have found new ways to reach their viewers at home.
“All these challenges happened in a very short period of time, and local media stepped up in a way they hadn’t done before,” WKYC President and General Manager Micki Byrnes said. “Because of that, I think we strengthened our connection to our communities.”
To keep up with the increased demand for local news during the pandemic, broadcast TV stations increased their news offerings to an average of 6.2 hours of news every week day, according to an RTDNA/Newhouse School survey. Broadcast stations have seen their communities respond with viewership of evening news increasing by 4% and midday news by 10%.
Providing trustworthy local journalism is nothing new for broadcasters. From investigative reporting to breaking news and weather coverage, broadcasters invest significant resources to keep American informed about critical events and provide a lifeline during times of crisis, and it comes at a significant cost.
News costs consistently account for about one quarter of TV stations’ total annual operational expenses, and stations also make major capital expenditures to support their news operations, such as fleets of vehicles, helicopters and cutting-edge technology to bring the most accurate local news to viewers.
From 2013-2018, stations nationwide spent an average of $3 million per year producing local news, with major network affiliates expending an average of nearly $3.6 million annually.
On the radio side, more than 80% of local radio station groups operate a newsroom. Radio broadcasters have invested in creating strong bonds with their communities, sharing a special connection with their listeners that helps keep them informed on the news they need to know. The investigative work of these local newsrooms is honored each year with Edward R. Murrow Awards. In 2021, these awards recognized outstanding journalism from hundreds of local television and radio stations across the country during an unprecedented year, including investigations into public corruption, election coverage, profiles of the extraordinary work by ordinary citizens, reports from natural disasters and in-depth explorations of the issues facing our communities.
Recognizing a recent threat to our democracy, local broadcasters are also working to battle misinformation and disinformation that spreads like a wildfire online. Initiatives like TEGNA’s Verify – which helps viewers fact check the stories they are reading – saw a 400% increase in traffic as their audience sought out the truth.
In broadcast newsrooms across the country, local journalists are telling the stories that expose the truth, illuminate issues of importance and provide Americans with the information to make decisions that shape the future. As ABC7 Chicago news anchor Judy Hsu noted recently, “We tell these stories that make a difference in our community every single day.”
Local stations deliver award winning investigative journalism.
Watch the recap of Scripps’ KATC’s investigative report, “Body of Evidence,” which highlighted missteps by the coroner’s office that led a family to destroy critical evidence after their loved one’s homicide.
Watch Hearst’s WCVB’s heartbreaking report of how negligence and bad decisions led to the deaths of more than 75 veterans at the Soldier’s Home in Holyoke when two locked dementia units were combined, placing COVID-19 patients side by side with veterans who were not ill with the coronavirus.
Hear directly from investigative reporters at local broadcast stations what drives them to dig for the truth to better inform their communities.