If you live in the Philadelphia area, you might remember the sentimentalism surrounding the December 2022 retirement of 46-year, WPVI-TV News Anchor Jim Gardner.
It was certainly the end of an era – not just for Gardner and his highly rated station, but also for the style of newscast that he presided over for more than four decades.
Today, it seems implausible that any news anchor – on a local or national outlet – will be the face of a station as Gardner was at WPVI. Which is not to say that TV news is dead – or even dying.
As public relations professionals, we believe an earned media placement remains a highly valuable commodity – and video news still carries a certain panache.
Why is that the case? Immediacy and credibility, says Paul Gluck, a former broadcast news director and currently an associate professor for broadcast at Temple University in Philadelphia.
“As we saw early in the pandemic, viewing levels for local and national TV news were significantly elevated as people searched for verifiable sources of accurate information,” Gluck says “That’s a sign of trust. The kind of trust that endures.”
Streaming also provides the immediacy that simply wasn’t possible in Gardner’s prime anchoring years, when news broadcasts were scheduled in the early morning, early evening and late night.
Now, you literally can watch news – local and national – around the clock. When a major story breaks, you can view in real time.
Three major legacy networks have quietly launched streaming channels in recent years.
NBC News Now, ABC News Live and CBS News Streaming are steadily building audiences, and the news divisions’ presidents all say their services are profitable. Known personalities – such as NBC’s Chuck Todd, Kate Snow and Hallie Jackson; ABC’s Linsey Davis; and John Dickerson of CBS – are all part of these streaming channels.
Here in the Philadelphia market, local outlets are also live streaming news. CBS Philadelphia streams around the clock through its website and mobile app. NBC10 broadcasts are streamed over Roku and Peacock.
And 6abc – the station where Gardner plied his trade for so many years – streams 24 hours a day online, on Apple TV, Roku, FireTV and Android.
In a public relations organization, the TV “hit” or “getting a camera to show” are considered wins worth celebrating and badges of honor.
Still, while many PR professionals and their clients crave the visceral excitement of seeing a news crew drive up to a location, the reality is that there are many other ways to view video and images from an organization or event.
Technology has also made video more accessible. A cell phone can record in high definition. A video clip can be emailed to a news desk and aired within minutes – usually with little to no drop off in quality. Anyone can be a news crew – even if they don’t lug a huge camera and carry a tripod.
And a story on the 6 p.m. news doesn’t carry as much weight as it used to.
“I think the notion of the evening newscast serving as the flagship broadcast may go to the wayside, as viewing preferences for immediate, updated news changes,” Gluck says. “The audience is demanding higher standards in the content they consume. Broadcast stations will still be trusted sources of news, but they may not all be producing it in the same way.”
Meanwhile, podcaster Bill Simmons told CNBC.com that is isn’t time to ring the death bell just yet for linear TV – even as streaming emerges.
“I think it’s going to play out like it has with terrestrial radio and digital audio,” Simmons says. “Five years ago, you could have said radio would absolutely be dead soon, and nobody would have challenged you. But it’s still limping along even with much heavier competition from podcasts, streaming, TikTok and everyone else.”
As for the cable networks, Gluck believes the divided political environment in America – especially with a presidential election looming in 2024 – will still provide a demand for opinion-focused news programming.
“I don’t think opinion-based media, on the left or the right, is going away, any time soon,” Gluck says. “I suspect it may grow in a divided nation, as more and more people seek to have their opinions validated and re-enforced by watching, or listening to, those who hold similar viewpoints.”
Indeed, Gardner himself reminded his audiences to seek out objective journalism when making viewing choices now and in the future.
“Serving the people with responsible and unbiased journalism is our mission now and in the future,” Gardner said in his final broadcast. “If we falter, you damn well better let us know, for your benefit and for ours.”
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