In April 2012, we once again tapped into radio’s collective brain power, surveying stations about what topics and themes have been driving station coverage for the last year. We also probed content preferences, an area we touched on in our Winter 2011 survey. Seventy-five news and talk stations representing the top-50 media markets graciously gave us their time and valuable feedback.
In a survey we completed in the Winter of 2011, stations predicted economy and presidential election would lead the coverage in 2012. Looking back on first quarter of this year and all of last year, stations overwhelmingly chose the economy (64%) as the top topic. Many said the economy leads nationally and locally and, ultimately, ties to politics, healthcare, education, and other key themes. So, it is simply pervasive. “Since 2008 the economy has been leading the news and will probably stay the lead for awhile,” Said one reporter. Another said, “Economy leads in an area like Detroit no question about it – always has, always will. And that, of course, is closely tied to politics.”
That said, breaking news and especially that which is local in nature, trumps all. “Local issues are first and foremost; breaking stories, missing children, trials, crime, local economy, local health and medical.” “What always leads our coverage is the big local story of the day – like an announcement by an local official or local company bringing 1,300 jobs to the area, a (local) nine year old being tried as an adult for killing his mother, a presidential visit…” One station added that in addition the local prioritization, topic coverage varies by season, citing weather as the lead in winter, politics in the fall and now, as the economy is looking up in Colorado, their attention has turned to education.
Recognizing that locally sourced news is so important to stations, we wanted to probe further to understand from the stations’ perspective, how local must a local story be to garner the most coverage? Overwhelmingly, city-focused stories, at nearly 84 percent, were number one ranking category. And logically, the further away from a metro focus one gets, the coverage importance drops accordingly. Citywide coverage was followed second, then countywide, market-wide, statewide, market-wide, and finally, last, was regional.
Many clarified “citywide” to include the metro area. City-first, but close-in coverage is key. As it relates to pitches they received, many further underscored their interest in great local angles and spokespeople to drive home a story. “We want our listeners to feel that we are providing them with good local information, good local contacts by interviewing local experts that they can turn to if they have a health issue or financial questions or community concern.”
Finally, following up on the winter survey that revealed interviews are the type of content stations want the most of, we asked stations to rank they type of interviews they would most likely use on-air. Logically, given their one-two coverage rankings of economy and politics, stations would most used locally drawn experts to speak to these topics. Nearly 46 percent said they’d like a local spokesperson to provide actionable financial information, while nearly 42 percent would use a local spokesperson addressing local politics or election impact.
Coming in third in the rankings would be an interview with a local spokesperson providing relevant health information and tips. Local politicians and celebrities, either locally based or born, ranked fourth. National spokespeople on financial or health issues are also used, but mainly when they can speak to local issues. Many stations also cited public affairs programs and other longer format opportunities that can broaden their focus and use of and use of spokespeople.
But, it’s not just geographics that matter. Stations also want stories that speak to their listening population from a demographic standpoint. “Consumer tips, entertainment, technology also get coverage when innovative and popular with listeners” said one respondent. Another noted, “Lots of focus on politics and health … health because of our aging population.” So, the bottom line, while local is good, stories need more than a local angle, they also need to mean something to a station’s listening audience. So, when pitching stories to the media, relevance is really the key.