Local news is likely to play an outsized role in the 2020 election cycle, both in terms of political advertising — with GroupM expecting more than half of the record $15 billion U.S. political ad spend will go to TV stations — and with local political stories having important national implications.
This has been particularly good for TV stations. In May of 2020, Elevate at SmithGeiger found the pandemic had produced hefty increases in local news viewership. Some 75% of survey respondents expressed the most confidence in local outlets’ COVID-19 news coverage, compared with 72% for network TV news, 71% for cable news and 48% for Facebook.
“There is all this partisanship on social media and other media and I think local news is one of the few places where there is less of it,” Meredith Local Media Group president Patrick McCreery said. “With all the challenges of the pandemic and racial strife and political partisanship, our reporting is more important than it has ever been.”
To build on that trust, Tegna has been beefing up its coverage of major issues, said VP of news Ellen Crooke. “Being the most trusted source of news in the country, we are really aiming at making sure that our voters are well versed on the issues and where the candidates stand,” she said.
“There is a real hunger for accurate information,” she added, pointing to the success of Tegna’s fact-checking series Verify. “We had 9.4 million visitors from March to June to our Verify stories and that is up 77% from November to February, and we had over 4 million video starts of those stories, up 335%.”
The election is both a giant national and local story, said Scripps VP of news Sean McLaughlin. “In some ways the election has never been more national,” he said. “But on the flip side it has never been more local when you consider the economic impact of the coronavirus and the different ways the civil unrest and the coronavirus is manifesting itself across our footprint.”
That is also making local TV reporting central to the election coverage efforts of national news organizations. This reflects both travel restrictions and the deeper understanding that local reporters have of their communities, executives said. As a result, the Scripps stations are working closer than ever before with the company’s Newsy channel; CBS News is benefiting from the local versions of its CBSN service and its owned stations; and ABC, NBC and Fox News are all working closely with their companies’ owned TV stations.
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