An extraordinary year for local TV newsrooms

Our ‘Top 15’ list is a testament to news-driven innovation

Let’s take just a few minutes to remember 2020 — a year many people can’t wait to forget.

Our list of the 15 most popular stories we published here at the Knight-Cronkite News Lab reflects a memorable mix of innovation, experimentation, and introspection, as local TV newsrooms stretched to meet new and ongoing challenges.

Our most-read story was our first of the year: Frank Mungeam’s list of “culture-killing” phrases newsrooms should stop using in 2020. Well, by spring, every newsroom in America HAD to stop using this one:

The pandemic rewrote the rules of newsgathering and production and touched off an unprecedented wave of creative innovation — not to mention boosting audiences for local news.

COVID-19 also inspired new forms of public service, with projects like Scripps’s The Rebound designed to deepen the connection between newsrooms and their communities.

But of course the pandemic wasn’t the year’s only big story. The killing of George Floyd and the movement for racial justice inspired thoughtful newsroom conversations about how to cover the protests and the inequities that sparked them — and the role of “objectivity” and “authenticity” among a rising generation of young journalists.


Along the way, newsrooms continued to experiment with new technology, like the setup that allows anchors at Cleveland’s WOIO to produce their own breaking-news coverage from the newsroom.


And stations around the country challenged conventional formats and formulas. Portland’s KGW reimagined the 6 p.m. news with The Story with Dan Haggerty.

Minneapolis’s KSTP took a new approach to the late news build on fewer stories and in-depth coverage.

Univision’s New York station reinvented its late news too — and won the July ratings period in Adults 18 – 49 against all competitors, regardless of language.


NBC’s LX went from experimental storytelling on YouTube to full-fledged live news programs aimed at younger viewers.


Spectrum News built out its model of regional beat reporters embedded in their communities.

And Sinclair expanded its commitment to long-term single-topic investigative reporting, which began with Project Baltimore at its flagship station.

We also wrote about — and you were good enough to read about — the future of weather reporting as it focuses on climate change; a new way to recruit those ever-elusive producer candidates; and why this election year would be like no other. (That’s one prediction that certainly came true.)

The full Top 15 list is below, and there are dozens of other examples here at our innovation hub, as we try to reflect the many ways in which local TV newsrooms are reimagining their future.

Thanks for serving as our sources and rewarding us with your time and attention. Alicia, Laura and I wish you all the best in the New Year. We’ll see you at the Lab — in 2021!

The Top 15

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