MEDIA ROUNDUP: Local news grows beyond evenings

Unlike many other segments of the media, local TV news is expanding by leaps and bounds - and some worthwhile PR opportunities are beginning to break.

Unlike many other segments of the media, local TV news is expanding by leaps and bounds - and some worthwhile PR opportunities are beginning to break.

Local TV news, often considered a backwater that any ambitious and telegenic reporter would want to escape, may be finally getting the last laugh. Many stations are dramatically expanding their time slots for newscasts, even as almost every other area of media has been contracting in recent years as a result of the ad slump. Local evening news broadcasts routinely run two hours, and in some cities they're even longer than that. Add to that the morning, noon, and 11pm broadcasts, and locally produced news can take up a huge portion of a station's daily programming. Lena Sadiwskyj, a former news director at stations across the South who recently joined Orlando, FL-based PR firm Yesawich, Pepperdine, Brown & Russell, says simple economics are driving much of this trend. "Creating more news is cheaper than buying it," she says. "That's why so many stations are doing it." More news, more challenges All this additional time devoted to local news should be a godsend to the PR industry, but it isn't really working out that way in many markets. One reason is that many outlets remain woefully understaffed and therefore hard to reach. "Just because they're adding time doesn't mean they're adding resources," explains Matt Friedman, VP at Marx Layne & Co. in Detroit. "What they're really trying to do is more with the same." In addition, local TV stations tend to be driven by spot news, especially if a reporter can get a live remote. Not only have surveys found that audiences prefer live news, but Tim O'Brien of Pittsburgh-based O'Brien Communications notes, "When you have reduced your writing and production staff in the studio, you tend to fill more time on the air with on-site reporters and anchors doing live, barely scripted Q&A." This growing short-term mentality makes it difficult to get a local news director to commit to a story in advance, even when given the possibility of striking visuals. "Everything has to come together in terms of timing, ease of access, geography, celebrity, and visuals - it all has to be there to get coverage of your event," Friedman says. "News producers are much more competitive than they were five, 15, or 20 years ago," adds Cherie Kerr, principal of Kerr Companies Public Relations in Santa Ana, CA. "So you better have some good stuff that's hard-hitting and new or else you are not going to get on." Even great b-roll or a video news release (VNR) has no guarantee of getting picked up, especially if there's been no attempt to localize its appeal. O'Brien says some outlets try to run them in their early evening segment, but stresses, "They have to be very consumer-oriented, such as healthcare issues like diabetes and heart disease or consumer gadgets. There's very little opportunity for business-to-business stories." Friedman adds that some stations can't even accept VNRs and b-roll that are locally produced. "In Detroit, because of a union contract with the TV stations, they can only accept handout video that was shot more than 50 miles from the station," he says. "Anything within 50 miles has to shot by a staff videographer." Many also complain that local TV news programming remains somewhat predictable, often taking its cues, as well as stories, from the dominant local newspaper or filling time by bringing in local experts for "Can It Happen Here" spin-offs of breaking national tragedies. Fresh opportunities But Doug Parrott, EVP of PR at Omaha, NE-based Bailey Lauerman, points out that local TV remains important, adding that there are plenty of opportunities if you're willing to look beyond the nightly news slots. He notes that many local morning shows have evolved from a sleepy prelude to the Today show or Good Morning America into full-blown, 120-minute productions complete with guests and enterprise new stories. "We have found early morning to be a good opportunity for clients because it's not a bad audience and there's more of an entertainment feel, so it gives our clients a chance to participate in lighter news," says Parrot, whose clients include the Union Pacific railroad. Andrea Martone, media director with CooperKatz & Co. in New York, also suggests providing media training for your clients in advance and having them ready in case a station calls at the last minute. "You want to make your pitch and then have everything arranged for that 11th-hour call," she says. "You can get lots of coverage if you can act quickly." ----- Pitching... local TV news
  • Local producers want stories that connect the viewer to their community, so localize your pitch by offering area experts and examples.
  • TV news is a spot-news-driven business, so help clients understand that even if reporters have committed to covering your event live, they may not show up if a fire or other incident breaks.
  • Being in front of a camera takes some getting used to, so take time to train every client who might appear on TV.

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