Despite only reaching about 47% of the Tampa Bay market, Spectrum Bay News 9 recorded more viewing hours during Hurricane Ian than the ABC, CBS and NBC affiliates combined.
According to Mike Gautreau, vice president of news for Spectrum Networks, the cable station has built a longstanding trust with its local viewers. The 24-hour outlet – the first of its kind in the region – recently celebrated 25 years of Tampa Bay cablecasting.
Gautreau joined Bay News 9 in March 2003, first serving as its news director. His role expanded to include News 13 in Orlando, and he also oversees stations in North Carolina and Kentucky. He said the outlet celebrating its 25th anniversary shows it was something “worth believing in.”
“I think all the things that we told ourselves and all the things the community told us were correct,” said Gautreau. “That there is indeed a place in every market for good journalism.”
However, there were bumps in the road to becoming a Tampa Bay news staple.
Gautreau said you have “wonderful” ideas when beginning something new, but no recognition. He called it a blessing and a burden because you have to prove everything to everyone.
He added that taking a seat at the local news table was a challenge in those early years, both literally and figuratively, as he had to ensure space for his crew at conferences and events. Gautreau also recalled describing the station and its mission to people before they would consent to interviews.
“Those were things that we had to sort of navigate,” he said. “You fast forward 25 years, and people call us.”
The first priority for a local news outlet, explained Gautreau, is contextualizing information. To achieve that, he said you must be active community members.
He stated the importance of living, working and investing in the coverage area and believes the station stayed true to that concept and remained genuine in viewers’ eyes over the last quarter-century. Gautreau credited earning that trust and convincing people they could rely on the station over the long term for its staying power.
He said that keeps people coming back – and used Hurricane Ian as an example.
“We had the highest ratings of any local affiliate, even though we only reach a little less than half the marketplace,” said Gautreau. “You don’t get that kind of viewership in a sort of life-threatening event like that unless you’ve been there over and over for the community.
“Whether or not they normally come to you, they’ll come to you when they know that there’s no better source for something that could have a serious impact on their livelihood.”
While the station was always known as a weather resource, Gautreau said a “less shiny goal” was to provide extensive political coverage. Although that might not attract advertisers, he said it is something that directly affects the community.
Times have changed with technology over the decades, and Gautreau said the goal is to remain relevant in the digital age. Mobile applications now also provide direct information around-the-clock, so, he said, the station strives to provide something not as prolific – proper context.
He hopes Bay News 9 not only provides an informational resource but also helps viewers understand what that means for them and their families. Although it might not seem like “sexy news” that now dominates social media, Gautreau stressed that people should embrace community journalism.
“If you can find a local news outlet that pays attention to those small details that have big long-term implications, then you should support it,” he said. “And if you don’t support the people that are bringing you that important information … one day, they’re going to be gone. If you’ve got a place in the market that you can trust like that, be sure they know it, and be sure your friends know it.”