Why Working in Local TV News Still Makes Sense

local tv news education

Dr. Craig Allen of the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication provides insight into the future of local TV news.

In 2001 Dr. Craig Allen, associate professor in the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University, wrote what is still heralded as essential reading for those interested in local TV news: “News Is People: The Rise of Local TV News and the Fall of News from New York“.

But much has changed since 2001; the growth of the internet and social media, the immediate nature of audience expectations and viewership fragmentation, just to name a few.

Dr. Allen’s book claimed that local TV news played a more important role in the audience experience than anything national news could provide. Does that still hold true today?

“It’s still a news of the masses,” says the International Radio and Television Society (IRTS) Fellow.

“Local news is for the 75% of people who do not have college degrees, have average incomes and modest occupations, and who may tune into the news only for the weather. Research continues to show that average Americans approve of, if not savor, the local news. It is an ideal match.”

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Here’s more local television perspective from Dr. Allen:

As an academic and as an member of the viewing public, do you think social media has improved or weakened journalism?

Dr. Allen: The issue is not two or three social media sites but everything available on the internet. Most definitely, the internet has weakened journalism.

The impact is a disintegration of the economics of the institutions that provide it. Because you can get anything on the internet for free, no one is going to pay for information anymore.

With everyone going to infinite sources, advertisers have no reason to pay for and just support one.

Trust me, if information providers had the same revenues as they did prior to the internet there would be no layoffs, downsizings, shrinkings and closings. And questions about social media and journalism would never be raised.

Today’s society has a ‘just add water’ mentality – we all want and expect answers immediately. If no one waits around until the news at 6 to find out why police helicopters were flying over their house that afternoon, how does a local news broadcast stay relevant?

Dr. Allen: It stays relevant by maintaining an advertiser base. This is especially true of Univision, the Spanish language network, which excels in local news in every major city.

To it’s audience Univision is very relevant. Here in Phoenix, the most watched English newscast has less than a 2% rating (2% of the population), but even with that low number, advertisers still pay a premium to be on the news.

As long as there is money to support local newsrooms, the people in them can go on reporting, doing their thing and believing they are relevant.

That is all that matters.

You’ve taught a class titled “Media Problems” at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University – what are the biggest problems facing the media today?

Dr. Allen: The problem hands down is audience fragmentation. With millions of media, the audience for each is a sliver. For each that means tiny advertising, which means tiny revenues, which means tiny professional staffs, few jobs, no resources.

But this is a matter of perspective; it is inevitable and not necessarily bad. It is good that there are millions of media.

One additional problems is that people – those that remember The New York Times, Time and Newsweek, plus the three TV networks – cling to a concept of “mass communication”. They can’t get it out of their minds.

Mass Communication no longer exists. Like they say in the military – it’s FUBAR – fragmented beyond all recognition.

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local tv news is still important

The ‘audience contract” a Louisville TV station built and promoted.

Recently a Louisville TV station decided to stop using the term ‘Breaking News’ because they said it was a cheap marketing ploy – do you agree?

Dr. Allen: Yes, is is a cheap marketing ploy. The public sees through it and it’s time has passed.

It does seem TV promos and teases capitalize on fear – is there a better way to convince an audience of your necessity?

Dr. Allen: You can promote experience, timeliness, proximity, appealing anchors, the latest technology and immediacy.

Back in 2001 you wrote about the ‘Global Village’ in your book “News is People: The Rise of Local TV News and the Fall of News From New York” – can you explain that concept? 

Dr. Allen: It was a metaphor of a metaphor that I used to illustrate the emulation of American Local TV news techniques in just about every foreign newsroom – including the BBC, which I regard as the world’s best source of news.

Globally, there is one style of TV news, that which is preferred by the “mass” audience, not necessarily journalists.

It’s still true. I just got back from Turkey, every Turkish newscast emulates the “eyewitness news” concept started here years ago.

When questioning an interview subject, what are the most important principles to ensure you get something better than a one word answer?

Dr. Allen: Begin every question with the word “why”.

I tell students this all the time. But one word answers when given often can shake the world. I’d never advocate one word answers as bad.

You’ve been a professor, news director, producer, reporter, anchor…you’ve run the gamut in your career. Looking back, what are the most common traits of successful students and employees? What makes some go on to great things and others just meander along?

Dr. Allen: The most common trait of those who succeed is the realization that one must pay his or her dues.

The ones who meander are those who view life as an entitlement. They wash out in a society still ordered by competition and commanded by people who did not think life was a free ride.

About Brian Clapp

Brian Clapp has worked in the broadcast media for over 14 years as a writer, editor, producer & news director. After beginning his career in Atlanta at CNN/Sports Illustrated, he switched coasts to Seattle to work at Fox Sports Northwest. In 2010, Brian began pursuing a new found passion on the digital media side, launching a successful website and then taking on the role of Director of Content for WorkinSports.com & WorkinEntertainment.com.

Recently Brian has become addicted to Google+ and LinkedIn so add him to your circles and make him a contact. No seriously, you should.


  1. Jason Backs says:

    I have had the opportunity to visit and speak with many classes at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism. They are a great group of students and instructors that are important to the future of our industry.

    • Jason – thanks for writing in, glad you liked the article. I was really impressed speaking with Dr. Allen, the students at the Walter Cronkite School of journalism are clearly in good hands. – Brian


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