Social Media Eroding Local News Viewership

In the “Talk of Iowa” podcast, carried across the state of Iowa, Interpersonal Divide author Michael Bugeja warned about erosion of community due to loss of local coverage, with younger generations being affirmed in their political and lifestyle beliefs rather than being informed via diverse views from traditional journalism outlets.

Host Charity Nebbe also had an insightful interview with  KCRG-TV’s News Director Adam Carros with more tech information and statistics from Melissa Tully, assistant professor of journalism at the University of Iowa. 

Aggregate data from the Pew Research Center shows that average audience for late night local newscasts declined 31 percent. Morning audience dropped 12 percent and early evening audience fell by 19 percent.

The first edition of Interpersonal Divide was subtitled “The Search for Community in a Technological Age.” Community news helped maintain community standards. As more people turned to online and social media for information, local viewership was said to be at risk.

That prophecy was spot on, especially in younger viewers. According to Nielsen, “Americans aged 18-24 watched a weekly average of about 12-and-three-quarter hours of traditional TV. It’s now less than 2 hours per day of traditional TV for this young group, the lowest figure yet.” In sum, this vital age group went from more than 2 hours and 10 minutes of viewing per day to about 1 hour and 49 minutes.

All other age groups are dropping viewership, especially when it comes to local news.

Cable carries local news stations, especially in rural areas. However, because of online news and social media, cable viewership also has declined, dropping 9 percent in the 18-49 age bracket, often with companies dropping local affiliates.

A harsh example of that concerns KUSA-Channel 9, the market leader in Denver, down 28 percent at the 10 p.m. news slot, according to the Denver Post.

The Pew Research Center reports 60 percent of those surveyed in the 18-29 age bracket say they watch television only via streaming services on Internet. Only 31 percent watch via cable and a mere 5 percent with a digital antenna.

How do we know that Internet is eroding local coverage? By comparing viewership with listener-ship of radio stations. Radio is terrestrial, or earth-bound, based on radio towers–an icon of rural communities.  Case in point: NPR boasts about 30 million average weekly listeners, up 14% from 2015, according to internal data.

Interpersonal Divide predicted this based on television evolving from a stand-alone one-way news source to an interactive device, much like a smartphone. There is more content than ever streaming through the typical television set, including Netflix, Amazon Prime, YouTube, and now YouTubeTV. You can use your smartphone to connect with the television set, opening up the entire global network.

Moreover, social media gives audience what it wants, according to consumer algorithms. It provides affirmation rather than information.

The new edition of Interpersonal Divide recommends that high schools and colleges require media and technology literacy courses to inform students about the importance of fact and local coverage.

Also, broadcast stations should engage high school students, especially when it comes to live-streaming sports.

Michael Bugeja provides more recommendation and insight in the “Talk of Iowa” podcast, including a challenge to record a week of local television news coverage and discern what information was important concerning crime, courts, sports and weather … that otherwise would have been overlooked.


2 thoughts on “Social Media Eroding Local News Viewership

  1. I like the “affirmed instead of informed” phrase, Michael. The algorithm based news feeds is another important point – and very troubling. I purposefully read news from all spectrums – liberal/conservative, democratic/republican, domestic/international, etc. That helps me stay informed, I hope. I am also troubled how some social delivery platforms (Facebook, YouTube) are rigging search results and advertising revenue, and how search engines (Google) are controlling search results to align with the organization’s political/social/environmental etc. bias. We live in interesting times.

    Liked by 1 person

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