Don’t drop local sports, change it

Market research indicates that sports is near the bottom of the list of reasons people give for watching local TV news. Some stations, most recently WTKR-TV in Norfolk, Va., have decided to drop the local sports segment to save money and make more time for news. Bad idea, says News8 Austin news director Kevin Benz:

If viewers are not interested in your sportscast, it may be because your sportscast doesn’t seem interested in your local viewers. If there is one thing a majority of the local news audience is interested and involved in (besides the weather) it is the athletic endeavor…I’m talking about the percentage of our viewers who run, walk, bike and swim for exercise. Those in our audience who spend vast amounts of their leisure time taking kids back and forth to soccer, little league, dance, gymnastics, softball or volleyball practice and games.

Sports is news, Benz argues in a column at Poynter Online, and local sports unifies communities. “If being hyper-local is the key to victory in a local newscast, why do we not insist on it in our sportscast?” He admits this is harder, “especially on a sports department used to pulling highlights off the feed and throwing them on the air. It means you start talking about journalism and sports in the same sentence. It means you manage sports the way you manage news.” Not a new concept, of course.  Charlie Tuggle wrote much the same thing in a column for NewsLab a few years back.  And some stations are making the kinds of changes Benz and Tuggle are lobbying for.

High school football, in particular, is catching on in local newscasts.  It could be the influence of “Friday Night Lights,” but stations from Hartford to Salt Lake City are featuring highlights and carving out space for high school sports online, with lots of user-generated video. Read more in Broadcasting&Cable.

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