Why is the local TV news so banal, compared to the national news?

It seems like the local TV news programs always have ‘cutesey’ little stories about local pet shows, and they have multiple anchors, usually a man and a women, and they make cutesey remarks to one another.

Whereas the national news has a single anchor, extremely severe in tone and dress.

Why do they have such different demeanors? I would understand that national events are more serious than local, but still, that should not explain the depth of ‘cutesey’ factor for local news?

The short answert is because that’s what viewers watch. Witness the infamous WBBM-TV experiment.

Actually it all started with KGO-TV in San Francisco way back in 1969. The station adopted a news format full of scandals, car wrecks and feature stories and the ratings took off. The rest is history.

Another factor is that local TV stations serve markets that stretch over hundreds of square miles, whose viewers don’t have that much in common. Viewers in the suburbs don’t much care about what the city council downtown is doing – that’s one of the reasons why they moved to the suburbs in the first place. While a government official on the take is always interesting, the lates vote by the zoning commission isn’t, unless it directly affects you.

As a result, news directors try to find something, anything, that appeals to a mass audience. Hence, “cutesy” stories like pet shows, local heroes and the like.

That’s also the reason for multiple anchors. There’s nothing inherently wrong with multiple anchors – Huntley and Brinkley were doing it for NBC back in the 1950s. The difference is that today’s anchors are carefully chosen to appeal to a broad demographic: male and female, young and old, etc.

Interestingly, surveys show the one thing local news viewers take seriously is local weather. As a result, you’ll find that no matter how the rest of the newscast is presented, the weather always features high-tech radar, five-day forecasts, serious discuissions of the jet stream, etc., often repeated two or even three times during a 30-minute newscast.

I could go on, because this is a hot button with me, but to go back to the basic answer, it’s what the viewer wants, even when given the choice of “real” news.

That’s a good answer. Another factor might be the availability of nationwide radio and TV news channels. I don’t expect the local folks to cover the same stories I heard on NPR, although sometimes I wish they would.

Maybe the local folks figure we’re getting our hard news from other sources, so they concentrate on local events, sports, weather, and human interest stories, like the baby duck rescues and the alligator in the back yard. Yes, we had those in Iowa this week, as well as black bear sightings in four counties.