Conway describes current TV news climate

Journalism professor Mike Conway talked about TV news at the Jan. 24 meeting.

School of Journalism associate professor Mike Conway talked about the future of television news at the Jan. 24 meeting of the Bloomington Press Club.

A former television news reporter and producer, Conway researches and teaches broadcast news, and shared some information about today’s news consumer with his audience.

For example, while people are getting more news online, they spend about 70 minutes a day consuming news, 57 minutes of it with traditional sources. And of those traditional sources, TV news accounts for more than half of those minutes.

“But in that category, there are three types of TV news: network, cable and local,” said Conway. “We hear a lot about cable news and while network news has been dropping, it still accounts for many more viewers than cable.”

He used cable personalities’ viewership to demonstrate: Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly draws about 2.9 million viewers each night and CNN’s Anderson Cooper about 1 million. Meanwhile, network’s NBC’s nightly news draws 10.5 million, ABC 9.1 million and CBS about 7 million.

Conway used statistics to show how people consume news.

Local news, both morning and evening, remains the most popular among viewers, with about 60 million viewers, especially those in lower education and lower economic demographics. Local news also is the most believable, according to its viewers.

“For local stations, the big concern is with their networks,” said Conway, who worked at several affiliates during his 20 years in broadcast. “Networks aren’t sure they need local affiliates any more. In the old days, networks paid affiliates well, but that’s not the case now.”

Technology and new media conglomerates are affecting local stations, who are worried about retransmission content. Cable and satellite companies don’t need local content to make money, only network access. Conway said Fox already is starting to cut out locals. Other networks are owned by large conglomerates for which news is not a major part of the business.

“A lot of companies in charge of media outlets are good at protecting the profit margins,” Conway said. “Ownership in local television will go through tough times, but will have to figure out a new model.”

Local TV used to make 40 to 50 percent of its revenue from local news. Now, that’s not the case, and often, the first reaction when numbers go down isn’t to innovate but to cut staff – usually in the newsroom.

Conway is author of  The Origins of Television News in America: The Visualizers of CBS in the 1940s, which looks at development of the television newscast, specifically the people who experimented with the medium in its earliest years, developing what became the modern-day TV newscast. The book was nominated for the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communications’ Tankard Award last year.

A Terre Haute native and IU telecommunications alumnus, Conway received his Ph.D. at University of Texas. Conway also told members that as a senior in high school, he recieved a Bloomington Press Club scholarship.

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