In Uncertain Times, People Turn to Local News
It was just months ago that news of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, came to light. While many national-centric news outlets warned that COVID-19 would eventually spread in America, that prediction has now become reality in our local communities.
Although there are endless options for accessing newsworthy content, in times of crisis audiences often rely more heavily on their local news stations to learn about the critical events impacting their lives. As we have seen this week and as outlined below, circumstances can change within minutes or hours, not just days or weeks, and local news outlets have a unique perspective and responsibility to keep their markets informed on how the circumstances impact them in near real-time.
Monday, March 16, 2020 marked a pivotal moment in our national response to this pandemic, as it was the first day that the majority of Americans began to realize the true impact of COVID-19. From schools closing to devastating stock market losses to calls for social distancing and self-quarantining, all of America is now forced to make sacrifices and shoulder the impacts of the virus. In the weeks preceding that Monday’s milestone moments, we all had varying levels of understanding and fear about the virus and its impact on our lives, largely influenced by how we were directly impacted by the virus in our local communities and our sources for news content. The level of anxiety understandably differs from market to market.
There is one fact, however, that is universal among us: We need local news in times of crisis to learn about the changes impacting our daily lives.
For every local market, the need and response of local news will be different. For instance, people who live in the state of Washington, which has the highest number of deaths in the U.S. and the earliest reported case of COVID-19, have relied on their local newscasters for information on the impact of the virus in their local communities for weeks. West Virginians will now be relying on their local news outlets for information since the first presumed positive case was reported only days ago on March 17th. In San Francisco, where residents are currently under a shelter in place order, local news is vital to connecting people who cannot leave their homes with accurate information. The people in these communities, and many others where COVID-19 has uprooted lives, need to rely on local news to understand their rapidly changing situations. Local news can provide needed answers, such as the supply of local grocers, elderly shopping hours at supermarkets, the locations and availability of testing facilities outside of traditional hospitals, and other local information that will only become more critical as our circumstances grow more severe.
On a lighter note, the local news also provides a unique platform for focusing on the good in our communities. In the midst of hard times, local news gives back to the community by showing the good that is happening in each town across America. We hear news of customers of local restaurants leaving tips of thousands of dollars to ensure that workers won’t be crushed by the financial loss due to layoffs or fewer work hours. We see neighborhood task forces forming and working to help the people in their communities most affected by this pandemic. Every day, we see the positive faces of our local newscasters who are still showing up to work to complete their duty of keeping our communities informed.
Comscore has already seen the impacts of communities turning to local news quantified in its data. For example, we compared Monday, March 18, 2019’s ratings data, to initial data from Monday, March 16, 2020. In my hometown of Baltimore, Maryland, March 16, 2020 was the first day in which we were forced to live our new reality of no school, no gyms, recommended work from home and no gatherings over 50 people. By comparing the Baltimore-based initial data set, we see that there was a clear increase in the aggregate of local news ratings by 45%, and the share for the local newscasts grew by almost 10%. Clearly, there are not only more households tuning into live TV, but these households are also relying much more on their local news programs.
Flattening the curve of the spread of the virus will surely bring about new changes and obstacles to our daily lives but having the constant reassurance that the local news is there to tell us everything that matters will be a comfort in the difficult weeks ahead.