Take Action To Save Local News

Free Press is taking action and raising awareness about the growing problem of local news consolidation, where local news on separate networks is being produced more and more often by the same news team and crew, narrowing down the options given

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Free Press is taking action and raising awareness about the growing problem of local news consolidation, where local news on separate networks is being produced more and more often by the same news team and crew, narrowing down the options given to local viewers. To take action, visit SaveTheNews.com:

Broadcasters are airing cookie-cutter newscasts in at least 83 of the nation's 210 television markets.

In these markets, the same newscast airs on multiple stations in the same community. Stations share content, reporters and even news anchors. How do broadcasters get away with this? By exploiting loopholes in the Federal Communications Commission's media ownership rules. The practice of covert consolidation has robbed viewers across the country of independent local news.

The FCC is currently investigating covert consolidation and could put an end to it as early as this summer.

To win, we need to make this an issue the agency can’t ignore. Take action now to demand better local news.

The New York Times explains the problem in detail:

Call a reporter at the CBS television station here, and it might be an anchor for the NBC station who calls back. Or it might be the news director who runs both stations’ news operations.

The stations here compete for viewers, but they cooperate in gathering the news — maintaining technically separate ownership, but sharing office space, news video and even the scripts written for their nightly news anchors. That is why viewers see the same segments on car accidents, the same interviews with local politicians, the same high school sports highlights.

The same kind of sharing takes place in dozens of other cities, from Burlington, Vt., where the Fox and ABC stations sometimes share anchors, to Honolulu, where the NBC and CBS stations broadcast the same morning show. The changes have drawn the ire of critics, who charge that there are fewer and fewer journalists actually covering local news. The agreements behind this sharing are also attracting the attention of another group of viewers — federal regulators.

Amid stiff competition for advertising revenue, these agreements are a “survival strategy” for weak stations, said Perry Sook, the chairman and chief executive of Nexstar, which owns the CBS station here, KLST.

...

But the owners of stations have gradually reduced costs and, arguably, competition. Building on the longtime sharing of cameras and helicopters by stations, the first “shared services agreements,” for newsrooms, and “local marketing agreements,” for ad sales, were put in place more than a decade ago.

They became more commonplace, according to local TV executives, during the recession, when stations suffered mightily and reduced their news staffs, even while adding newscasts to create more opportunities for advertisers. The agreements enabled some stations to carry out further layoffs, and they continue apace, most recently in Toledo earlier this spring.

A University of Delaware study last year found versions of the agreements in at least 83 of the nation’s 210 television markets. (“It is remarkable that neither the F.C.C., nor any commercial media data company, has an accurate picture of the phenomenon,” the study’s authors wrote.)

The agreements are more prevalent in smaller markets, although even cities as large as Denver have them. There, the study found, newscasts on the Fox station and the CW station had the same stories, scripts and graphics more than half the time.

Free Press is tracking the problem with their program "Change the Channels," which more fully explains the problems and provides tools for fighting it.

About Kenneth Quinnell

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