Television has been a primary source of news for millions of Americans for decades. In fact, according to one study, even among the youngest adults, those aged 18-34, 66% watch local news at least occasionally. Still many have wondered if there will be a place for traditional broadcast news in the future.
Shannon Isbell is the news director at WBRC-TV in Birmingham, Alabama, a Gray-owned, Fox affiliate. She says she expects local TV news to be part of the news ecosystem for quite a while. “As my generation ages, they’re probably going to be less about news [on personal devices] and go back to some of those more traditional methods like a dot.com, or traditional broadcast TV.”
The data bear her theory out. By the time people are aged 35-54, 82% are watching local TV news at least occasionally, as our 88% of those who are 55 or older.
However, Isbell knows news consumption habits are changing and says that live streaming is the future. “People are either going to be watching us via YouTube, or, you know, via our app, like a Roku app, or Amazon Firestick, Apple TV, those sorts of things,” says Isbell, “We’re going to be producing for those viewers as much, if not more so than the traditional broadcast viewers.”
Isbell says local TV news must change to remain viable. “Your content needs to be impactful. It can’t just be, the shooting du jour, or a series of mug shots that have no relevance to my life.”
And though it sounds simple, Isbell says that being relevant to your local audience is your first priority. “In reality, as a news consumer I want to know if there’s a new restaurant opening within a two-mile radius of my front door,” says Isbell. “Life is busy, and I don’t always plan ahead, or even want to come home and cook. So that impacts me.”
Isbell says she expects some of the enduring qualities of local TV news will keep people coming back. “As much as you love to see news on social media, you’re not getting the empathy that sometimes comes with a reporter that’s at the scene and showing us something that’s going on and offering that same kind of context that a meteorologist or somebody else could.”
Local TV news does face another significant challenge, according to Isbell. “I spend a lot of time recruiting young people. When it comes to employee retention, it’s all about the relationships and how you treat those employees,” she says. “And if they feel like they have that relationship and connection with their boss, and sometimes that’s just as good, if not better, oftentimes, than the financial [rewards].”
Without a passionate and eager workforce, Isbell knows there is no future for local TV news.
Read more about the hiring challenges facing hiring managers in TV newsrooms Newslab’s ongoing coverage of the challenge.