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Women/Minorities in Media
Looks vs. Brains?
What's News?
If it Bleads, it Leads
Building Community
The News Business
Behind the Story Photo of News Director

Ratings Equal Revenue
Watch Video The local news business is closely tied to Nielsen Media ratings and market reports on viewer demographics and viewing preferences. Every department of a station, from sales, to editorial, to managerial, utilize this information in their decision making. How certain segments of the news appeal to viewers is reviewed constantly, and carefully compared to a station's pool of advertisers. "It's a business and, first and foremost, we have to make it run as a business," said Keith Connors, WCNC news director.

When it comes to turning a third place rated television station such as WCNC into a high-performance business, it is vital to be in touch with audience preferences. It is this vigilance to ratings and market studies that alerts station management to improvements and adjustments that can be made in the program. This focus on building revenue is essential in today's local news marketplace. In the past, many local stations were independent, and most local news programs were not expected to generate significant revenue. Today, however, most local stations are owned by large communications corporations that expect every division, including local news, to give a rate of return on investment of up to 40%.

Watch Video This push for profits makes the local news business highly competitive. As viewership for a particular program increases, so does the revenue earned from advertising spots during that show. And, as news stations improve their profitability, so too can they improve their operations, hiring more staff, upgrading equipment, and increasing their focus on production values. As WCNC assistant news director Anzio Williams said, "If people are going to stay up until 11 P.M., they are staying up for news. They want something from us. If they are not going to get it from us, they are going to turn and get it somewhere else."

Struggle to Stay On Top
The News Business In LOCAL NEWS, when news director Keith Connors compares each day in the newsroom to a war, he means that reporters must fight to keep their stories, to protect their jobs, and to remain competitive in the market. If an anchor's appearance, personality, or credibility does not match audience expectations, he or she may be cut, as was the case with WCNC anchor Alicia Booth, who was replaced by another anchor and reassigned as a field reporter.

Such tactics on the part of station management may seem unfair, or even shallow, but a key factor in their decision making is economics. As the very large profits of local television stations have declined with the advent of cable and the Internet, the owner's first response often is to tighten the newsroom's belt. "During the last four years, the percentage of TV stations reporting budget increases has slid from 72 percent to 66 percent ... At the same time, the percentage of stations reporting budget decreases has grown from 7 percent to 20 percent. Budget tightening is primarily in smaller markets," according to the Radio-Television News Directors Association (RTNDA). Most local news operations are in these smaller markets. Complicating the drive for local news operations to excel amidst tough competition is a simple economic factor: it is difficult to produce audience-grabbing broadcasts at a station that does not have enough money for equipment and staff.

Market Analysts
Watch Video When a station is underperforming, market research analysts are often called in to brief staff on the demographics of their audiences and what factors will likely appeal to them. This is seen in episode four of LOCAL NEWS, "Grace Under Pressure," when Dick Goggin, research director of WCNC, was asked to summarize the local market for reporters. Goggin said, "In a market that is NASCAR and fishing, our people [viewers] go out to dinner and spend money. They go swimming in their backyard pools. They travel to exotic places ... We are upscale. We are more educated. We are FAA. We are the NPR versus KAT Country, country music..."

He describes the lifestyles of WCNC's audience and informs the news staff that their stories have to be in sync with their viewers likes and dislikes. The necessity to appeal to these viewers puts more pressure on the newsroom. "We've got to be in the business of creating new products to entice new viewers, and we can not keep doing all the same things you were doing... We need to be constantly pushing what's new," urges news director Connors.

The competitive nature of the local news business drives the industry. Were it not for the constant striving for excellence, news reports could lose their spark, and reporters might be in danger of not connecting to their audiences. The negative impact of this push for viewers, however, is that some stations may compromise their integrity with sensationalistic tabloid stories to lure hungry audiences and gain market share, essentially substituting research-based stories that are expensive to produce with low-cost fluff.

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