The Viewer Alienation Plan

That’s what former Chicago Tribune television critic Steve Johnson said about WBBM-TV in the 1990s, for its tabloid-like newscasts.

Today, the plan seems to be still pretty much intact.

The CBS-owned turned in another pitiful performance in the recently concluded July sweeps according to Nielsen, with WFLD’s new 10 p.m. newscast tying it for third among adults 25-54 and finishing ahead of WBBM in adults 18-49. The 10 p.m. newscast in households finished behind a weakened WMAQ-TV and the market leader, WLS-TV, and was down 31 percent in households from a year ago (you think it’s time for WBBM to call Carol Marin back? Ratings for her newscasts at 10 were better than what they got now….)

The station’s 5 and 6 p.m. newscast also took ratings hits, with the 5 p.m. newscast down 30 percent.

Of course, the Amy Jacobson debacle (not to mention an unpopular anchor change at 5 and 10) contributed to WBBM’s downfall, eroding what’s left of the station’s credibility, which started to evaporate in the mid-1980’s, when ratings started declining for WBBM’s newscasts.

But there’s more to this story about Amy Jacobson and the Stebic household. Ratings for late news, as well as all of local news – are down from a decade ago. People are getting their news from other sources like the Internet, but many- especially younger viewers – are fed up with what passes for local news these days and the select material they use for stories.

For example, a few weeks ago, a 17 year-old was shot in killed in a gang-related shooting in the affluent Wicker Park/Bucktown neighborhood. On the same day, a robbery and shooting took place at the River Oaks Mall in working-class Calumet City, which injured two people.

Guess what story got the most attention? While the Tribune and Sun-Times reported the Wicker Park/Bucktown shooting, it wasn’t mentioned on any of the local news stations’ websites, or on the air, but the Calumet City shooting received gords of attention.

Think about that. And that’s one of the reasons why viewers are tuning out local news. But since news (and the mindless crime stories that come with it) is cheaper to produce than acquiring syndicated programming, and with demand from advertisers continuing to skyrocket -particularly from deep-pocketed political candidates buying ads for next year’s elections – it’s not going to make much of a difference.