By Adam Carros
As KCRG-TV9 marks 60 years of broadcasting in Eastern Iowa this week, the landscape of local television news is evolving into an uncertain future.
Only about half of Eastern Iowans even had a television set when KCRI, as it was first called, signed on the air Oct. 15, 1953, mixing 15-minute local newscasts with local variety shows such as “Mother Wilson’s Kitchen” and “Danceland Bandstand” and network programming from ABC.
As television grew, it began to change the way KCRG reported news. In the late 1960s, KCRG started broadcasting in color and its newscasts expanded to 30 minutes. Our first weather radar debuted in 1975, a few months after Denny Frary began forecasting and hosting “Good Morning Eastern Iowa.” Later that year, KCRG moved into our current home in on Second Avenue SE. As the need for immediacy grew, KCRG bought its first live truck in the 1970s and Newscopter 9 took flight in 1993 for 14 years.
Perhaps the biggest change, the one now fueling the future of newsrooms across the country, came in 1995 with the launch of KCRG.com.
The Internet is reshaping, in ways never thought possible, how Eastern Iowans get and share information. Beyond KCRG.com, social media is, for the first time, making news a two-way conversation. We can now hear what KCRG viewers want to know and tap into a resource of 61,000 Facebook users to find out what is happening in Cedar Rapids and countless small towns across Eastern Iowa without relying on news releases or officials telling us about it.
This also means our viewers are changing, too. Instead of tuning to newscasts at set times to find out what happened today, websites and social media give you the information you want when you want it. While Eastern Iowa has remained relatively immune so far, the Pew Research Center’s annual State of the News Media report found local TV news viewership fell 6 percent from 2006 to 2012.
This is both a challenge and an opportunity for KCRG, forcing us to rethink the way we’ve covered news for 60 years.
That same Pew Research report notes “newsmakers and others with information they want to put into the public arena have become more adept at using digital technology and social media to do so on their own, without any filter by the traditional media.”
Translation: There are more voices out there pushing their own agenda.
In an increasingly noisy world of endless information, local television news must remain a beacon for viewers wanting to cut through that clutter. KCRG must remain the trusted source for local news by giving Eastern Iowans the information and personal stories found nowhere else, with the context and clarity the Internet often lacks.
We must increase our capacity at fact-checking and holding public officials and private entities accountable for their actions. At the same time, our storytelling using video and sound must be put to good use, not just informing but empowering change to make Eastern Iowa a better place to live.
Our power to connect people with information has never been stronger. Viewers can help us find information and tell stories to a much wider audience than anyone had in 1953. KCRG’s challenge for the next 60 years will be adapting to harnessing that power. But that is how television news started.
Adam Carros is News Director for KCRG-TV9. Comments: Adam.Carros@kcrg.com