Are beats the answer to better local TV news?

Jerry Gumbert, CEO of AR&D, a local media strategy firm, says the No. 1 reason why TV news is flagging “has been a failure of news management to sustain focus on a formal beat system.”

News leaders have to realign priorities and reinstitute beat systems — and the kind of enterprise reporting that comes with them — if broadcast journalism is going to survive, he says.

Otherwise, TV newscasts will become increasingly indistinguishable from one another — a phenomenon already underway — as they become outlets for regurgitated or old news, he says.

“The result of this is catastrophic. It’s killing us because it dictates that we can only do superficial or reactive storytelling.”

In the last 15 years, the number of TV newsrooms operating with beat systems has plummeted to just one in 10, he says.

These are strong words from an article published in TVNewsCheck, but it’s an argument that some who study the economic of news have been making for some time.

Call it the “Wall Street Journal” argument, if you will.  Why is the WSJ one of a few newspapers that can put its content behind a pay wall and make it work?  Because the content is so compelling and unique that people are willing to pay a premium for it.

Most other news organizations produce “commodity news,” essentially it is content available from a myriad of outlets — and though journalists would like to think their unique approach and writing style makes a huge difference to the audience, it often doesn’t.

Unfortunately, most TV stations also put the bulk of their efforts into covering this commodity content, and it’s very hard to grow or maintain audience when you’re providing the same information as the other guy.

The challenge, as the article points out, is to continue assigning beats with limited resources.  So, help us out, how can stations do it?