KSL finding solutions to community issues; ratings and market share climb

Published: Thursday, Dec. 12 2013 3:50 p.m. MST

Ken Fall and members of the KSL Enterprise Team discuss upcoming stories during a meeting in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2013.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

At first blush, the idea of a television news story on suicide sparked an instinctive "bad for TV" response — weak visuals for a difficult topic that would take more than a couple of minutes to explain.

But as producers and editors at KSL-TV looked deeper into the subject, the opportunities to not just expose a troubling problem — Utah ranks among the top 10 states in suicide — but also to offer some hope and solutions for families struggling with an issue that few people want to talk about became clear.

"We talked to experts on how to cover suicides because traditionally the media doesn’t cover suicides," said producer Candice Madsen. "We also wanted to be hopeful ... that there are solutions and answers for families who have dealt with it."

The end result was not a single story, but an entire 30-minute, 10 p.m. newscast in April dedicated to "Breaking the Silence on Suicide." The program has been followed by other enterprising coverage focusing on the issues and solutions regarding family caregiving, online dating, home security, panhandling and email scams. Another full newscast was dedicated last month to "Runaways: Kids at Risk."

The departure from the traditional fast-paced newscast of one- to two-minute stories documenting car crashes, fires and planned news events is something KSL's executive vice-president of news Tanya Vea has pushed for the past two years to distinguish the station as the place for more in-depth coverage that looks at solutions as well as problems.

As local television news viewership drops locally and nationwide, KSL is also carving out a unique position in a media market where consumers can get their daily news from their phones, tablets, laptops and other sources around the clock.

"There is more risk in doing it the tried and true way" of packing as much of the day's news into a 30-minute show as possible, Vea said in response to people's changing news consumption habits. Instead, she has invested resources in a team of producers and reporters dedicated to generating unique and useful content at a time when other news organizations are paring down staff.

"We are the only locally owned station (in the Salt Lake market), and we are fortunate to have an owner that encourages us and even expects us to focus on quality as part of our business model," she said. "Our charter is to be a value and a service to the community and we take that very seriously."

KSL is owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as is the Deseret News.

Community investment

That's not to say Vea and the rest of the KSL team don't also want the station to return to its historical status as the top-rated newscast in the state. The latest ratings in November show KSL second, behind KUTV.

But KSL was the only station in the local market to register growth from November 2012 — a 4 percent bump in ratings and a 25 percent climb in share of households watching television during the late news time period.

What was more remarkable about Nielsen's November ratings was that the number of households turning on their televisions during the late news hours dropped 13 percent from a year earlier. While the 2012 presidential election boosted last year's November ratings, the difference is typically a 2-5 percent swing from an election year to a non-election year.

Asked if the investment in more long-form content has made the difference for KSL, Vea said:

"We haven't done research on it, but we certainly have ratings to back it up. We are the only station that had growth during an incredibly difficult period (when) the entire market contracted, late news specifically."

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