A record number of local television stations produced news during 2020, despite shrinking budgets, revenue shortfalls, and other major challenges, according to a new survey conducted by the Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA) and the Newhouse School at Syracuse University that looked at newsroom output across the nation in 2020.
More than 1,100 television stations aired local news in 2020, and the content was produced by 710 stations across the nation. The total number of stations airing news was up by 18 from 2019. Local television stations also aired a record number of hours of local news in 2020, as compared to 2019.
The majority of stations airing local news were streaming the content directly on their websites. Multi-station groups have crafted streaming strategies to allow them to stream via multiple platforms, many using Roku, Fire TV, and YouTube or a variety of each.
CBS’s Owned and Operated Stations group has opted for a solution that combines streaming via the home-grown CBS News app and the Paramount+ app. In comparison, Tegna uses its own home-grown approach that streams via YouTube and their own websites. Over the past year, the group has worked in use of Roku and Fire TV apps in order to increase views on those platforms.
Gray Television has developed its own app, VUit, allowing local news content from all of its stations to be viewed on a single Roku and Fire TV app. Sinclair already has its linear Stirr app, and provides local television for individual markets within that single app.
The independent NewsOn app has contracted with a number of local television groups to stream local broadcasts across the nation. That app is also available on both the Roku and Fire TV platforms.
According to the RTDNA study, most television newsrooms produced an increased amount of television during 2020 while newsroom budgets were cut. Only 16.3 % of newsrooms saw budget increases during 2020, as opposed to 36.8% in 2019. Comparatively, the study said, 29.3% of newsrooms saw budget cuts versus 9.1% in 2019. The bulk of the stations affected by budget cuts were in the top 50 markets.
The COVID-19 pandemic had a dramatic effect on television newsrooms, forcing the majority of news staffs to work remotely. According to the study, by the end of 2020, more than 80% reported at least some of their staff remained working remote — a move that may, in some cases, become a permanent situation.
The study said that stations with more staff and those in larger markets were more likely to have staff continuing to work remotely.
About 30% reported budget cuts and nearly as many stations reported reduced staff sizes in their newsrooms. Stations in the Northeastern states were most likely to be affected by furloughs. The survey said that about 70% of news directors surveyed said they expected long-term or permanent changes, most particularly, those in larger markets or larger newsrooms.
Many of the permanent changes were geared toward workflow, smaller numbers of staffers in newsrooms, more remote meetings and virtual interviews. Increased stress was commonly noted from smaller teams, while some said there were upsides to the virtual work options.