Where do you get your local news? Is traditional media dead yet?

These two questions have been on my mind for quite awhile and then last month we learned that a Fort Wayne news institution was making a major change:

The News-Sentinel is ending distribution of its afternoon newspaper as it shifts to a digital platform, Fort Wayne Newspapers announced.

Subscribers will still be offered News-Sentinel content in the morning Journal Gazette, as part of a renewal of the two newspapers’ joint operating agreement.

I wasn’t surprised, but I was saddened.  In my youth, I was a paperboy of the afternoon paper in Fort Wayne and had a fondness for the paper even though it has been years since I bought one.

The survival of two local daily newspapers in a city the size of Fort Wayne was only due to some planning decades ago that allowed the morning and afternoon newspapers that were independently owned to form a Joint Operating Agreement.  This J.O.A. was limited to advertising revenue and kept the news and editorial staffs separate for each paper.

For the past dozen years, I have had access to publication numbers of the two newspapers because of my affiliation with the Radio Advertising Bureau and their access to the numbers reported to the Audit Bureau of Circulations that keeps track of this data.

In 1999, the afternoon paper had over 45,000 subscribers, and that number was in the 20 thousand range 10 years later.  The last report I have access to listed a total of 12,000 weekly subscribers to the News-Sentinel back in 2014 and odds are they were less than 10 thousand last week.

This is not just a local phenomenon. The decline of printed daily newspaper circulation has been going on for decades with alternatives popping up online. Many papers moved their content online and used those numbers to boost their subscription numbers that they would report, but the revenue didn’t match up.

A few years ago, I had coffee with a young woman who was in charge of selling digital advertising for the Fort Wayne Newspapers and I remember my advice:

Your job is going to be to keep advertisers spending levels where they are today. The businesses are going to decrease their spending in the printed paper and you can help them stay by migrating those funds into digital products.

I laid out a 5 year plan and at the end of those 5 years, 90% of an advertisers budget was being spent in digital media with the remaining 10% on a souvenir collectors edition of the printed newspaper.  She wasn’t allowed to follow my advice and now she works elsewhere.

A couple years later, after I was interviewed to become the Digital Advertising Sales Manager for the Fort Wayne Newspapers they decided to eliminate the position and combine the sales departments of both digital and print.

So where do we as consumers get our news?  I still see people reading the morning paper in Fort Wayne on the days I visit a coffee shop.  But those numbers have been declining too.

Fort Wayne has over 20 radio stations and a number of TV stations.  The television stations that offer local news include a CBS, ABC, NBC and Fox affiliate.  According to the ratings, the CBS station has double the audience for local news over the ABC station and the NBC stations audience didn’t hardly register in the latest survey.  The Fox station has one newscast at a time that no one else does (10 pm).

On the radio side, WOWO Radio is the only station with a fully staffed full time news staff that does live local news every 30 minutes from 5am until 6pm weekdays, and more frequently between 5 and 9am.  Yes, there are other stations that offer local news, but not all day and not to the degree that WOWO does. WOWO has additional news sources and providers in neighboring communities from our co-owned stations in Warsaw, Elkhart, South Bend and Goshen along with “news-partners” at local print and TV stations.

Long ago, WOWO’s news slogan was, “Where you go when you need to know”, and as a News Talk formatted radio station for over 20 years, the commitment remains.  WOWO recognized that where we get out news continues to evolve.  Nearly every local news story is found on WOWO.com.

News and Weather alerts are sent via text to subscribers.  Updates on Facebook and Twitter are posted online too. WOWO is owned by Federated Media and WOWO supplies the news to our sister stations in Fort Wayne including WMEE, 98.9 The Bear & K-105.

Having worked for a couple of the other radio station groups, they simply don’t have a news department like WOWO & Federated Media.  When I was there, it was more like grab the morning newspaper and pull a couple of headlines to rewrite and call it a newscast, style of news.  And to be fair, there are two radio stations on the non-profit part of the FM dial that have news departments of varying degrees.

News is not the only reason we have traditional media.  My original two questions when I started this were:

Where do you get your local news? Is traditional media dead yet?

Individual TV shows on the major broadcast networks can still find a healthy sized audience, but those networks are not filling all their prime time weekly slots with new shows.  Lot’s of repeats will air on Friday and Saturday nights, I’ve observed.  Broadcast TV is trying to adjust to the on-demand world of entertainment we have now.

Music radio stations have been battling alternatives for decades and usually are still winning if they are locally connected to their listeners and their community.  The Radio Advertising Bureau still tells us that over 90% of folks age 13 and older listen to a radio station every week.

From a business standpoint, you as a business person need to understand that there are still some very valuable traditional media sources that you can use to advertise with.  It’s just not the same as it was 30 years ago or even 10 years ago and it may require someone to help guide you to make smart decisions on where to advertise.

That’s where I can help.  I make recommendations beyond what I can sell to you myself, when I see an opportunity that you should take advantage of.  Want help?  Let’s talk.