Plenty of TV viewers say they want to see more upbeat stories. But every time a station moves away from the gore, ratings disappoint in a big way. That may be why Tim Wieland, news director for CBS4, is unwilling to dub the outlet's recent stylistic shift, with much of its content branded "Together for Colorado," as a "good news" format. But he makes it clear that what bleeds these days probably isn't going to lead.
"All the important topics we should be tackling as a TV newsroom, we are covering," Wieland emphasizes. "That's not necessarily all good news. But they are stories that are more important and more memorable."
Wieland acknowledges that viewership for its flagship 10 p.m. newscast, which currently stars anchors Jim Benemann and Karen Leigh as well as forecaster Lauren Whitney, played a part in the transformation.
"About a year ago, we were coming out of the May ratings, and we felt like what we were doing — the way we told stories, the way we worked to connect with the audience in Colorado — needed to change," he says.
At that time, he goes on, "we were much more focused on letting the daily news events drive our coverage, and often that means crimes and courts — the sorts of things that stereotypically drive local news coverage. So we made a conscious choice to change how we cover the news in every newscast that we do — and that's easier said than done. It's taken us a year, really, to change the way we think about our stories every day, how we shoot them, how we edit them."
The result, he notes, "is the kind of newscast you're seeing us do now, which we think better reflects the values of Colorado and better respects our viewers' intelligence. We believe the stories you see in our news make you think, make you smile, and most importantly, they're memorable. They're stories that will stick with you when you turn the TV off."
On most days, "you're not going to see a litany of shootings and stabbings and court appearances and fires," Wieland continues. "But we want what you see to feel important. We may tackle the opioid crisis or gang violence in our city or the affordable-housing crisis or growth in our mountain communities. But we're also covering stories about people working together to solve problems and tackle issues — like a bicycle donation project in a low-income neighborhood."
This theory takes into account how most people follow the news these days, he concedes. "It's very easy to get the headlines and breaking developments on lots of different platforms anytime you want, and we still serve that up on our website and Twitter and with our app notifications and all the places viewers expect to get that information. But when you make the choice to sit and watch the news, we decided to make it a little more thoughtful, more in-depth. We wanted to do something different in the market — to offer something our competition doesn't."
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The station has also come up with a new repository for its sunnier stuff: Together With Karen Leigh, which airs Fridays at 6:30 p.m. and Sundays at 7:30 a.m. Wieland describes it as "a thirty-minute broadcast where we take the 'Together for Colorado' stories that are more optimistic and positive-leaning and run them in one program."
It's too soon to tell what impact these alterations will have on the number of folks tuning in to CBS4. The recently released May ratings find CBS4 in second place behind 9News, the perennial frontrunner, during weekday afternoons and evenings. But Wieland stresses that they also show that "we maintained or grew our audience in every single newscast we do in every day part — and I think that's a testament to the value of the changes we're making. We're seeing that online, too. Some of our most popular stories on our website are stories that take a deeper dive on important issues, or they're our 'Together for Colorado' stories. People are sharing them with friends and family, and that's encouraging."
Anecdotally, Wieland says, viewers "are definitely noticing a change, and that's been really gratifying. In this media environment, it's very difficult to break through with almost anything. So it's great to get positive feedback."
Just don't call it good news.