Tuesday, May 29, 2012

In dozens of television markets, mostly small ones, stations share or even outsource the local news

Local broadcast news operations in smaller markets are suffering the same kinds of financial woes that newspapers have so publicly tangled with in recent years, so much so that the Federal Communications Commission indicated last week that it is studying how stations collaborate to cut costs and staff, and what that means for news consumers and local democracy, reports Brian Stelter of The New York Times.

The FCC says it "does not know how many agreements exist between stations," such as the CBS and NBC affiliates in San Angelo, Tex. (Stetler photo), that share office space, news videos and scripts, but a University of Delaware study last year found such agreements in 83 of the 210 U.S. markets, mainly small ones, Stetler reports. The other San Angelo station, a Fox affiliate, rebroadcasts news from San Antonio, four hours away by car.

The first "shared services agreements" for small newsrooms occurred a decade ago, when news directors wanted to share costs of, say, a helicopter, but those agreements have expanded to include sharing whole newscasts or segments of newscasts and a cast of reporters, Stetler reports. In some markets, one station, usually an affiliate of Fox or a smaller network, has no news department and its news hours are filled by broadcasts produced by another station that airs its own news at different times. In many towns, the station with no news department is owned by Sinclair Broadcasting.

This kind of "sharing," Stetler writes, has "drawn the ire of critics, who charge that there are fewer and fewer journalists actually covering the news" and perhaps not fulfilling their government-licensed responsibility to serve the public interest. The agreements themselves may be the problem for the federal regulators who are charged with making sure that competition exists in the marketplace, no matter how small. Despite the rise of the Internet, Stelter writes, "Local television remains the No. 1 source of news for most Americans." (Read more)

No comments: