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Local TV Stations Filling the Newspaper Void

Broadcasting & Cable:

WJBK did not wait for Detroit’s two major daily papers to start cutting back distribution. On March 9, a full three weeks before the Detroit Free Press and Detroit News went from daily delivery to delivering a few days a week, the Fox O&O sent out its inaugural “My Fox Morning News” e-newsletter—a 6 a.m. online blast of news, weather and traffic in the No. 11 DMA.

A month after launch, the free newsletter featured ads from Chevrolet, a local hospital and a tire retailer. WJBK VP/General Manager Jeff Murri says subscribers number around 5,000, and the base is growing significantly every day. “It’s an easy way for former newspaper readers to get their morning news,” says Murri, who also reports a 20% boost in morning news ratings since the papers scaled back distribution. “Clearly these people are looking for alternative sources of information.”

Few could have predicted how swiftly newspapers would go from being an integral part of people’s daily routines to tottering toward obsolescence. As major markets such as Seattle and Denver have said goodbye to well-established dailies, and the likes of San Francisco and Boston ponder a future without papers that are almost as much a part of the regional landscape as the Golden Gate Bridge and Fenway Park, local television executives are studying what new prospects await them in a paper-free world. There’s lucrative opportunity to reach out to former newspaper advertisers and, perhaps even more significant, there’s a chance to become a more trusted source of local news.

“Where there’s a void, a well-branded TV station will fill in as a news source,” says Hearst-Argyle VP of News Brian Bracco. “We have tremendous brand loyalty, and have to follow up and make sure we’re covering news the way we should in our communities.”

And. . .

Several station managers express frustration that, at an ideal time to win hearts and minds from longtime newspaper readers, there is no money to capitalize on the opportunity. With thousands of reporters with deep Rolodexes out on the street, few stations have the resources to bring them on board. “There’s a new pool of people available with real skill sets who were making the transition to video,” says KMGH Denver VP/General Manager Byron Grandy of the scores of former Rocky Mountain News reporters in his market. “The flip side is, it’s not the best environment to be hiring.”

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