KSTP, Ch. 5, is taking a page from the “Nightline” playbook.
The local ABC affiliate has adopted a new format for its 10 p.m. newscast. Instead of hitting viewers with a barrage of headlines as it once did — as many as two dozen in 35 minutes — the show now focuses on five or six topics, giving reporters and photographers more time to tell their stories.
One episode last week included a four-minute profile on Steve Grove, Minnesota’s commissioner for the Department of Employment and Economic Development, a luxury that would have been impossible under the old model.
Often, less time is dedicated to weather and sports, at least when compared with competing stations.
“Nightcast,” which debuted May 4, is the brainchild of news director Kirk Varner, who joined the station in April 2019 after stints in several other markets, including New York City, Cincinnati and Charleston. While the idea was a direct response to the challenge of covering the coronavirus crisis, Varner also hopes the new approach will elevate the broadcast’s ratings, which long have been stuck in third or fourth place.
“Breaking news is the strength of our station, but we have great storytellers here and our investigative team is strong,” Varner said. “I wanted to create a showcase for them.”
Lindsey Brown, who alternates with Kevin Doran as the anchor, said the new format can provide viewers with a deeper knowledge of subjects that can be hard to grasp in half a minute. She points to a recent piece on personal protective equipment, a term that gets tossed around a lot these days, but often without context.
“I get that mentality that viewers want as many stories as they can get in a 30-minute broadcast,” she said. “But this is an opportunity to maybe learn something.”
Varner said it’s too early to see a change in the ratings. Reaction from viewers has been mixed.
“There’s no guarantees in life,” he said. “But there’s always some risk when you’re trying to be innovative and build a brand.”