he attacks in Paris really hit home for me this weekend – as they have for many Americans. And so has the disappointing local TV coverage of this huge international story with direct implications in all of our hometowns. Friday night, my daughter was getting on a plane in Boston to return to college in Brussels as the terrorist attacks in Paris began in real time. As the evening progressed and the horror of what was happening in Paris began to unfold, our family became increasingly – desperate isn’t the right word, but urgent is – urgently searching for information. Being in the media business, we’re plugged in. We have satellite radio, cable and satellite TV and are very active on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. Yet it is startling how little information was available as the story unfolded.
As we were driving home from the airport, relatives and friends started calling and texting, asking about our daughter: what we knew, if there was danger in Belgium, etc. They were looking for information from their local media sources and were coming up empty. One friend in the Midwest told me he had first checked the website of his favorite local news station, “but they don’t have anything yet.”
In the car we reflexively tuned in to WBZ, one of the top all-news radio stations in the country. Inexplicably, they were running a talk show about immigration and the GOP and Democratic debates. We then switched to Sirius and flipped between CNN and BBC World Service, which were wall to wall. When we got home, we surfed satellite news channels on TV as the broadcast networks stayed with their standing Friday night programming, but most of the breaking news and info came from our social media feeds. NONE of it was provided by any of the many local stations we follow. Instead, CNN (which has done a great job with this story, BTW), The Daily Beast, The Guardian and The New York Times consistently provided the most current information via their digital platforms.
Saturday morning, I got up early and started scanning local and national news websites and social media platforms for new information. It was embarrassingly sparse, particularly local TV, which boasts about “coverage you can count on,” “the news comes first,” “working 4 you” and “on your side.” Meaningless sloganeering. Generally, they had a couple of links to network stories at the top of the page, then the usual menu of fires, accidents, weather and weekend happenings.
Bottom line: Non-local social media platforms and my colleagues at CJ&N (who have actively backstopped me by looking for info and sending it along) became the primary source of info for me.
As of midday Saturday, local broadcast media was STILL getting crushed, their brands tarnished and their audiences going elsewhere for developments on the biggest international news story (with very real domestic implications) of the year. This story hits close to home for all Americans. Just look at Facebook, where, predictably, people have switched their profile pictures to images of the Eiffel Tower and the French flag.
So where were our “trusted” local media brands when we really needed them? During sweeps, no less! As of early Monday morning, several large market local stations have dispatched crews to Paris, which makes for a good promo but probably doesn’t actually move the needle. This is more than a missed opportunity. It’s a prime example of why local news consumers are looking elsewhere for important information.