Life in the Box: Local News Still Viable?


If a car crashes into a house 200 miles from you, it’s sad, but not as interesting as if it crashes into a house one block from you. Being geographically close to an event makes it more vivid. That’s what your local news is counting on.

So, you will find news of crimes, crashes, explosions and oddities on your local news almost every night. What else is on your local station that isn’t anywhere else?

Hopefully, your local reporters will keep updated on city and municipal details and deadlines—for example, “you must buy your pet’s license tags today or be fined,” or “the school board meeting tonight is going to discuss the new bond issue.”

Some of this is dry, non-emotional, and not a favorite for viewers (or reporters). But, where else will you find out this stuff, if it’s not provided by a news-gathering team for a television station or newspaper? Are you going to subscribe to get press releases from city hall? Do you really want to wade through all that P.R.?

What else is on the assignment team’s list? Most stations will monitor social events like local concerts, fairs, farmer’s markets, and festivities. They’ll do stories on downtown building improvements, openings and closings of schools, and will also offer traffic alerts, possibly with traffic cameras if your local metro has them.

For the past few years, I’ve been watching our local news almost every night, often both the 6 and 10PM offerings, switching between all three of our local news stations.

There is quite a difference in style and on-air personalities, and some stations just don’t quite cut it when it comes to getting out into the community with their cameras. I’m sure that’s a function of cost savings.

But, all of them are giving me more than a Tweet feed or Facebook flash could ever do. It takes work to gather information, keep apprised of a community, read through the town council minutes, and to prioritize and summarize all that for a news show. And that work isn’t necessarily glamorous or enthralling, and I just don’t think many of us want to do it ourselves every day, even if we could find all the information online.

I think the news stations do a great job of headline gathering, and together with a local newspaper, are still necessary staples of a community. With diminishing audiences for both television and newspapers, I hope there will always be teams where I live who can deliver these summaries. And my next column is about television in Miami, where even serious news has got some local glamour.


Nancy Heather Brown is an Emmy Award-winning television producer whose career has included interviewing, writing, and editing for a span of four decades. Today, she uses gems from this treasure trove of life stories to add sparkle to her reflections on the creative process both inside and outside the box.