The death of local news has long since been foretold

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The media business has been changing forever. The latest changes are being attributed by those on the outside looking in to COVID-19, but COVID-19 is an excuse, not a reason.

The most recent casualty that I know personally is Damon Dillman, the long-time sports anchor at CBS-19 in Charlottesville, who announced on Twitter on Tuesday that he had just been let go by the station.

I’ve known Damon since his days at WHSV-TV3 in Harrisonburg, when he was the backup sports guy who had me on his “Sports Xtra” show, years ahead of me doing TV sports.

His note on Twitter mentioned a higher-up at the station saying “sports doesn’t move the needle,” suggesting that the move to cut his job isn’t so much about COVID, but about the direction the media business is moving into.

We’ve been moving away from news being something you get once a day in terms of the daily newspaper basically since mobile phones started streaming the internet.

Local TV newscasts as a whole only exist because you want to know if anybody got murdered across town overnight and what the weather is going to be tomorrow.

Local sports probably is an anachronism from a TV station standpoint – three to five minutes toward the end of the half-hour to rat-a-tat-tat through what the local pro, college and high school teams have been up to.

Not even the 24-hour sports networks – ESPN, Fox Sports, CBS Sports, NBC Sports – give more than a smidge of time to game highlights, assuming that you’ve already seen them, if you cared at all, on your phone.

The sports networks commit the bulk of their time during the day not devoted to broadcasting games to endless fake debates featuring two or more people screaming at each other over the designated hitter or instant replay or some other back-and-forth.

Which, if you’ve noticed, that’s what cable-TV news has long since become – 24 hours a day, seven days a week of “Crossfire,” in essence.

Your local TV news is the only place left where anybody does any actual reporting.

And, no, don’t @me about your local paper doing actual reporting. Newsroom staffs have been cut through muscle into the bone, and the remnants have been reduced to producing BuzzFeed- and HuffPost-inspired clickbait to complement the city council and school board meeting content that everybody knows nobody reads.

With more people getting away from the appointment mindset to TV viewing, the local TV news – and its stories at the top about murders ahead of the tease to the weather – is getting closer every day to meeting the same fate as the newspapers.

The broadcasts, like the page holes for print newspapers, will shrink, the staffs will continue to contract, and it eventually will end up online, like everything else in the brave new world we live in.

Story by Chris Graham

         
 

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