Sunday, September 17, 2006

Does Local Ownership = Better Ownership?

Many of you newsies have already heard the allegations the FCC killed a study revealing TV stations with local ownership do more news.

From the AP:
The report analyzed a database of 4,078 individual news stories broadcast in 1998. The analysis indicated that local ownership of television stations adds almost 5 1/2 minutes of total news to broadcasts and more than three minutes of "on-location" news.
"On-location" can mean several things, but I'm not sure what this study was getting at: does it mean live shots, stories done in the field, or both? Whatever it means, ArsTechnica quotes a UCSC professor suggesting the flip side: local ownership can also mean more pressure from local business.

I say it doesn't matter whether your owner is in the same community or one thousand miles away; it comes down to corporate attitude. Media conglomerate Belo made a reputation for putting money and quality into local news. Sinclair Broadcasting earned scorn well beyond TV industry folk for doing news on the cheap and with a conservative tilt. News Central, its grand experiment with outsourcing parts of local news and weather to their corporate HQ, is dying on the vine. But don't expect Sinclar to admit that anytime soon.

No doubt local owners care more because they have a stake in the community. It's simply good business to provide good news content. But limiting ownership numbers is silly. If the FCC really cares about quality news in communities, then it should be putting more scrutiny on public comments come license renewal time. Licenses are granted with an expectation of public service, after all, unless that's just another bygone commitment from another time -- in which case, why even require stations to keep a public file or send in reports of the kinds of news stories they run?

I can't remember a station losing a license over poor news or programming content, not in the last two decades, anyway. Yet we have the FCC eager to pounce on every f-word and bare breast beacuse of fake outrage campaigns organized by self-appointed cultural police organizations. How about pouncing on a few stations that run newsrooms like sweatshops (and I don't mean the one I'm at, for the record). The trade unions aren't getting it done.

No comments: