THE LOCAL NEWS PROJECT I
THE LOCAL NEWS PROJECT I - RESEARCH SUMMARY
The Local News Project I was the first national research study to
concentrate on locally produced information programming, its interaction
with network news programming, and its value to listeners. It is,
to date, the largest station funded research study in public radio history.
The Local News Project I research consisted of thirty-five focus
groups in eighteen markets, and telephone surveys conducted in nineteen
different markets. The project was developed by Peter Dominowski
of Market Trends Research with the cooperation of the Public Radio
News Directors, Inc. [PRNDI] and the assistance of the participating
participating in The Local News Project:
KPBS, San Diego
KQED, San Francisco
KUER, Salt Lake City
WNYC, New York
fundamental research question was to determine whether stations should
continue devoting their resources to producing local information programming.
The answer is a definitive "yes."
surprisingly, public radio news listeners favor it as a first choice
for national and international news by a wide margin [more than two-to-one]
over all other media. But most listeners also preferred public radio
as their primary source of state and local news, if it offered the
kind of coverage they wanted. A sizable 88% of listeners already feel
that public radio is a useful source for state and local information.
95% of listeners agree that in-depth reporting about national and
international news is important to them. Conversely, 86% of listeners
agree that in-depth state and local reporting it is important. Most
listeners also agreed that that they would miss state and local reporting
if it were not heard on public radio.
These data demonstrate that public radio stations have a real opportunity
to provide a valuable service to listeners through in-depth state,
regional, and local news reporting.
Prior to this study, it was assumed that listeners would rate the
quality of national and international reporting to be superior to
that of state and local news on public radio. This research finally
quantified the difference. In every measurement, network news programming
was rated "excellent," while individual station news coverage
was rated either "good" or "very good."
listeners like state and local news, but love the national
and international news on public radio.
55% of news listeners would keep the amount of local news coverage
on their station about the same as it is now, 39% would choose to
increase local coverage to some degree, while only 4% would decrease
to the research, listeners are willing to financially support local
news programming. When asked how they would divide a hypothetical
$100 pledge to their public radio station to support different types
of programming, local news received more than a quarter [$25.68] of
the support on average.
Problems and Challenges for Locally-Produced News
consistently underestimated the amount of in-depth news local coverage
provided by stations. There is a gap between the amount of in-depth
local reporting most stations produce, and listener awareness of it.
This is especially true for in-depth local reports heard within network
programs. At many stations, these stories are not heard at specific
times each day. Newscasts are easier for listeners to remember, since
they are generally heard at the same time every day. Listeners declared
that consistent broadcast times will raise their awareness of in-depth
study also demonstrates that many listeners are not aware of a station's
in-depth reporting heard within network programming. If a locally
produced in-depth news report is worth airing, it is also worth promoting.
Generally, more listeners will hear the promotions for the in-depth
report than will ever hear the report itself.
listeners appreciate news reporting on public radio
radio news is appreciated both for the content it offers, and for
what it does not contain. Many listeners feel that public radio is
valuable and distinctive because it:
Provides rational and factual information in a universe of media hyperbole
depth when many other sources offer little more than the sound bite
information that is significant where others concentrate primarily
on murder and mayhem
sense instead of concentrating on sensationalism
a perceived connection with the best of contemporary thought and culture,
and combats a feeling of intellectual or social isolation expressed
by many listeners
few pundits in a media world saturated with overbearing and opinionated
the human side of the news without an over-emphasis on melodrama or
an emotional bond or connection with many listeners which is not often
experienced with other forms of media
value the in-depth reporting and what they call "human interest"
stories - that humanize news and events through talking to one
person, or several people, to discover how the event effects their
life. This establishes a personal connection to the news that no
amount of speeches by Prime Ministers or statements by official spokespersons
could ever accomplish.
Source of the News
Listeners concluded that it makes little difference if a report is
produced in their city or state or halfway around the world. Each
report must be produced in a style that maintains their interest,
and the subject must be interesting to them, or made interesting by
the content and presentation of the piece. If a report meets these
criteria, they will continue listening.
Ellington once said that there are only two kinds of music - good
and bad. Our listeners say that there are only two kinds of news reports
- the kind that are well produced, with a subject that interests them
or is made interesting by the production and presentation of the report,
and the kind that do not meet their standards of quality and interest.
Because most listeners do not judge news programming by its source,
national and local news and information programming is inexorably
intertwined. A strong local news presence also strengthens national
news, and vice versa.
the importance of local news
subjects and approach used in most network reports potentially appeals
to the broad target audience of listeners to national news programs.
Regardless of where a story originates, the subject is chosen and
the story produced in a way that could potentially be of interest
to all listeners.
This level of inclusiveness is not achieved as often in local reporting.
Some stations spend considerable effort reporting on stories that
are interesting to only a small portion of their audience. If local
reports fail to make their subject interesting to most listeners,
they will inevitably been viewed as less interesting than national
and international reporting.
Stations Are Doing
that participated in the research have had the results for about six
months. How are they applying this new knowledge? A few examples:
and foremost, many stations are reconsidering and redefining the concept
of local news. They are looking at their city, region, and state with
a broader perspective. They are exercising greater care in writing
and selecting their sources, to make stories more regional rather
than narrowly localized.
Since the research indicated that over half of news listeners sometimes
tune out when they hear a report a second time, stations are re-examining
repetition and placement of both local and national program segments.
This includes everything from altering rollovers of national programs,
to changing the location and content of local newscasts. Stations
are using the Arbitron information they already have to more closely
track patterns of listener duplication, especially in morning and
afternoon drive times.
Many stations are also advancing local stories they have aired by
producing a weekly half-hour weekend local news program. Hosted by
a local reporter, selected stories are aired, often followed by an
interview with reporter who produced the story to bring it up to date.
The Local News Project answered important, fundamental questions about
how listeners perceive information programming produced by stations.
There is much still left to learn, and a second study may be conducted
later this year. But these results clearly demonstrate that stations
can serve audiences with thoughtful, well-produced pieces that embody
the unique characteristics that listeners have come to expect from
public radio journalism.
Trends Research Incorporated
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