FCC Changes to Local TV News
It looks like Trump’s FCC will change ownership rules for local TV and media outlets.
How do we look at this as a nation hoping for an informed public? I see three ways:
- This is inevitable.
- It seems scary.
- (However) There is opportunity.
So, is it inevitable? Why does this move by the FCC make economic sense?
Most TV news stations are moving digitally. The majority of the audience relies on smartphones, tablets, and laptops. Already, local TV stations are broadcasting emergency broadcasts and shows solely on Facebook Live or Periscope – bypassing traditional airwaves.
Many TV stations cannot compete with Facebook or Google for ad revenue since online ads are cheaper and more targeted for advertisers. So the TV stations are saying “can’t beat ‘em, then join them.”
This is routine consolidation survival for any industry. Revenues drop, so then you join a competitor and create a better product. What we’re seeing in most markets is the local newspaper is struggling worse than the TV stations. Both need economic help.
Look Inside the TV Station & Newspaper Newsrooms
Most local TV stations today have hired recorders, not reporters. This is not a knock on them. It is merely the news marketplace today.
These young so-called journalists produce stories on their own. When I was a reporter, I worked with a photographer and an editor who both provided the technical expertise while I did news digging and on-camera work. Not today. Here’s what most of them do:
- They shoot the video
- Make calls to get interviews
- Conduct the interviews
- Video editing
- Write the video story
- & write the print news story for the station’s website
All this video work provides little room for real journalism to probe and analyze a story. It’s hard to go in-depth and get the real story or the real cause. Thus, these TV station presenters seem to be forced to record a story rather than report one. However, a number of TV stations are already addressing this journalism deficit by hiring local newspaper reporters to either oversee or provide content for the TV station’s online news site.
Most newspaper reporters presumably have better journalistic and writing skills. Again, no knock on TV reporters; it’s just the skills they are forced to emphasize. This alleged news gap will close because these news people will join forces and probably learn or develop new skills. Already we see many young journalists who are comfortable working on numerous platforms. So why not put them all together in one company?
Now let’s look at why these news consolidations could be scary.
We may see the end of the nation’s best warning system. Despite my criticism of TV news, I applaud local TV as the first line of defense when it comes to danger – mainly severe weather. Consolidating media outlets could mean that viewers in the hinterlands — without good internet connections — might be at-risk of not getting these warnings.
Fewer news organizations will control news content. We are seeing it with the Sinclair Broadcast Group which many believe is the FOX News/Breitbart of local television. Most of us in the news biz shuttered when Sinclair forced their news anchors to host pro-Trump broadcasts just before the election in purple states. They can use the heft of outside political money to bring only their message.
[Some disclosure here: I auditioned for the lead news anchor spot at the Sinclair station in West Palm Beach, FL about five years ago. I did not get the job, thankfully.]
Let’s go a bit deeper into the changing media bias that is hitting local media markets. Don’t get caught up in the left-right bias. It will be more about urban-vs-rural. We are seeing it in Southern states with big city TV markets like Atlanta and Charlotte. There is some great TV journalism happening here.
Still, broadcasters like Sinclair could use these new federal changes and some big outside political money to infiltrate and eliminate the message of urban, presumably more liberal, TV stations.
But, There is Room for Media Optimism
It requires more entrepreneurship in the news media. Technology today is allowing many of us to create our own news organizations.
Take a look at videos I produced during the last two hurricane threats to the Carolinas where I live:
Using only an iPhone, I produced and aired new stories that updated people on the impending and on-going threat.
Granted, I have TV news experience. So I could quickly produce these pieces. But it is not rocket science. Plus, anyone who worked with me will tell you they never wanted me in an edit bay. It is different now – thanks to technology.
So, we need to look at this as an opportunity. Someone is going to take my cue and do it. What I hope is there will be enough of these entrepreneurs who have an understanding of what real news is.
It is all about informing, educating, and warning the public with researched and credible facts.
Why do we need to just rely on a single news organization in our region?