06/07

How “Personal” is your News?

Traveling around the country, I’ll often hear stations – particularly AM stations with a heavy news posture – talk about the importance of local news to their information equation.

Yet at the same time, my research repeatedly shows that once you get beyond traffic and local sports headlines and weather, “local news” per se is one of the things listeners – even information listeners – want least.

And that’s fundamentally because information fans tend to be interested in one of two things: What fascinates or entertains them and what impacts them personally.

And neither of these things are explicitly “local.”

Take a peek at TV news for proof: Subtract sports and weather and traffic and national headlines offered up through a local filter and the local “angle” on all things national and what do you have left? A three-alarm fire, a DUI for Lindsay Lohan, and a new baby Koala at the zoo, that’s what.

For better or worse, the stuff that passes the fascination/entertainment and personal impact tests is more likely to be national than international and more likely to be international than local. That’s how our world works.

And what’s particularly personal isn’t even necessarily about what’s in the headlines, whether those headlines are from around the corner or around the world.

As Republican pollster Frank Luntz says, “If you ask Americans which story they would more likely read in their daily newspaper, the carnage in Darfur or how to keep their teeth permanently white, they’ll choose teeth whitening almost every time.”

This is not about “fluff” per se. It’s about being relevant and personal.

Not “the biggest stories of the day.” Not local or international or national. That’s not how information lives in our heads. And it shouldn’t be how it lives on your station.

You can view the news as something medicinal that needs to be administered (i.e., “we have a responsibility to communicate…”) or you can view it as something you expect to draw in listeners who are looking for fascination/entertainment or personal relevance.

The key for you is to understand what’s personally relevant and impactful for your audience, and deliver it better than anybody else in the right quantity.

* = required field
  • Tom Fricke

    FYI, there is NO SUCH WORD as “impactful” !

  • http://www.mercradio.com Mark Ramsey

    FYI: There must be, because I just used it.
    http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/impactful

  • http://www.gacaradio.com Art Sutton

    Mr. Ramsey,
    Was any of your research conducted in un rated markets? We have conducted research in our small markets and local news is the single most popular feature we offer on our 14 stations. Futhermore, we have the most traffic on our station websites to our local news section. In communities which are not part of a large metro and often times only a weekly or twice weekly newspaper, local radio news continues to be very very popular with audiences 25 years of age, plus.

  • http://profile.typekey.com/mramsey1/ Mark Ramsey

    While local news may be higher or lower in importance from one market to the next, it doesn’t change the fundamental point of the argument.
    Thanks for the note!

  • http://www.kwed1580.com Hal Widsten

    I must disagree with your statement that local news isn’t of interest to listeners, and at the same time I’ll agree with what you said about people being interested in what impacts them personally. Local news stories about topics that do impact our listeners is what keeps our stand-alone AM station viable and profitable. As I’m sure you have discovered in your research, there are basically two kinds of people living in any given area. Those who have a stake in what happens there based on their ownership of property, involvement in schools, or business ownership are very interested in local happenings. Those who have no ownership stake and just live in an area because that’s where they happen to be able to find work could care less. Both groups are potential listeners and local news can be the common denominator provided there is….as you say…content that directly impacts them. For example, A story about gas prices and where to find the lowest price in town appeals to both groups. Road construction stories that affect how people can travel through an area is another. If local news content is carefully crafted to appeal to both groups, it can be valuable, but rip and read news and traffic reports that talk about generalities and not specific situations are not worth the air time. The audience is too smart for that.

  • http://www.randyradio.com Randal J. Miller

    I must take issue with what you posted on your web site about “local news.” In most small markets in the radio industry, if it were not for “local news,” we wouldn’t survive. That’s what OUR listeners tune in for; and that’s what attracts ADVERTISERS to our medium. Take that off small market radio stations and we’re no more than the juke boxes most large market radio stations have already turned into.
    Regards,
    Randal J. Miller, President
    Miller Media Group/Regional Radio
    918 E. Park, PO Box 169
    Taylorville, IL 62568-0169
    Phone (217) 824-3395
    Fax (217) 824-3301
    133 E. Division, PO Box 266
    Kewanee, IL 61443
    Phone (309) 853-4471
    Fax (309) 853-4474
    E-mail: rjm1955@gmail.com
    http://www.randyradio.com

  • http://www.mercradio.com Mark Ramsey

    There’s no such thing as “local news.”
    There’s such a thing as “personally relevant and impactful news that happens to be local in origin.”
    And the latter proves my point.
    You guys are focusing on the forest, not the trees.

  • http://www.ilfb.org John Hawkins

    Mark:
    I believe your premise on “local news” is more pertinent to TV news than radio. Most of the radio news directors I work with know that for a story to be relevant — it’s got to hit Joe SixPack in the pocketbook, his kids, or his daily life. Thanks.

  • http://www.mercradio.com Mark Ramsey

    Again, if the reception to this piece obsesses on the points about local news then you are missing the central point of the piece – which is that while all politics may be local, all news is personal or impactful.
    And if that happens to be local, fine. But don’t confuse the cart for the horse.

  • http://www.wfrm.net Gerri Miller

    Mr. Ramsey:
    Obviously you have never LIVED in a small town–a real small town. Having lived and worked in a major city and a town of less than 3,000 people where I manage a radio station and write the local news, I can tell you what is local in Philadelphia is not local in Coudersport. Our listeners may not care about the carnage in Darfur because it is too far away and they are struggling in their own lives, but they do care what happens to their neighbors down the road or in the next town because what happens to the neighbors DOES often impact the listener. But you have to know the dynamics of a small town to understand that and to deliver the news accordingly. People standing next to each other at a bus stop in Philadelphia do not speak to each other and consider it an affront to be looked in the eye by a stranger. However, in a town of less than 3,000 where the radio station is the daily newspaper, people cross the street to say hello to someone they barely know. Art Sutton,Hal Widsten and Randal Miller (no relation) are all right. There is a difference between TV news and local news on a small radio station. Our closest TV station is two hours away in another state. Their local news is not ours, but sometimes it does impact on us and has some interest. Their weather is not ours, but we watch it to get an ide of what might be in store for us. However, their local news is of more interest to us than the antics of Paris Hilton or the frozen money of an indicted congressman. You are right,that people are interested in what impacts them but I submit there is a difference in what impacts people in a small market and what impacts people in a major, or even small city. Our local news has the strong, loyal following it does because most of the time we write about things that impacts or interests our listeners. In fact,when it comes to choosing which of two softer news stories to choose, our decision is based on which one we feel has the most interest or impact on a majority of our listeners. It can be “bringing home” a story or an issue which is making national headlines i.e., the increase in autism;
    grandparents raising grandchildren; the 60 hour work week, etc. Radio station news directors must truly know their markets in order to deliver the news that is relevant to their listeners.

  • http://profile.typekey.com/mramsey1/ Mark Ramsey

    Some of you guys are completely missing the point, which I thought I made quite clear.
    As for investigating the matter in a small town. I’d be happy to do so.
    But the small towns need to hire my company for the work first.

  • http://www.wfrm.net Gerri Miller

    Last word on the subject. In small towns, local IS personal

  • http://www.mercradio.com Mark Ramsey

    No, I don’t think so.
    “Personal” is personal.
    And “local” is local.
    And knowing the difference between the two is priceless.

  • Kent Sterling

    This chain of messages is the best illustration for why radio is in deep crap. Mark writes a fairly simple thesis about difference between relevance and local. The responses from respondants are idiotic to the point I fear we are not even speaking the same language. Relevance is not inherently geographic. Stations need to hire people who understand listeners and what interests them, or we are doomed as conveyors of information.