The value of a local presence“My initial reaction [to the main studio rule] was: Is this the end of local news?” said Nneka Nwosu Faison, a Boston-based reporter who has worked at TV stations across New England, and a 2018 Nieman Fellow. “If all you have is a hub, you’re never going to have stories that are specific to that town or that market. New York City isn’t going to care about some news happening in Syracuse, or send a crew there,” Nwosu said, speaking of her experience at her first job at a TV station. “What our national leaders are saying on Twitter doesn’t affect what’s going on with the Johnson family in their schools and their trash pickup or snow removal.” The National Association of Broadcasters, a lobby group for the industry, came out in favor said the main studio rule “has outlived its usefulness in an era of mobile newsgathering and multiple content delivery platforms. We’re confident that cost savings realized from ending the main studio rule will be reinvested by broadcasters in better programming and modernized equipment to better serve our local communities.” It also applauded the FCC’s changes to the media ownership rules, calling them “irrational in today’s media environment, but they have also weakened the newspaper industry, cost journalism jobs and forced local broadcast stations onto unequal footing with our national pay-TV and radio competitors.” No story mentioning media ownership consolidation would be complete without noting Sinclair’s seemingly political aims, viewed as fuel to the FCC’s deregulatory fire. The broadcasting company, already in possession of more than 173 TV stations in dozens of local markets, has been pursuing a deal for 42 Tribune Media TV stations and is working through the Department of Justice’s approval process. As Doctor noted, it makes no secret of its conservative leanings:
It has mandated nationally produced must-carry editorials, some of them so fact-challenged as to provide ample satiric fodder for John Oliver. 6,356,541 people, as of this writing, had watched that 20-minute Oliver segment, but it’s unclear how much of a difference that makes… Sinclair’s approval appears to be in the final stages, though it’s unclear how the heightening opposition will affect that. It may be the first of ever-bigger deals done for political as well as business reasons.
The New York Post has reported that the Sinclair–Tribune deal is inching forward with the Department of Justice by agreeing to sell off some Tribune stations, with the possibility of wrapping up in the middle of 2018’s first quarter. Away from the policy stage, local newsrooms are sorting through their own futures. “It’s called local news for a reason,” Ny Lynn Nichols, the news director at Nexstar-owned KAMR/KCIT in Amarillo, Texas told local reporter Jay Ricci. “A lot of what we do is about relationships. You need to know the people where you live, how the people think.” But Ricci himself, as a reporter and anchor for the Amarillo Globe-News/Amarillo.com/AGN TV, likely knows the churning change familiar in any local newsroom that has seen its advertising dollars reduced by online platforms. Nwosu, the Boston-based TV reporter, has witnessed it as she took her first job in journalism the same year the iPhone was released. At her second job, two months after being hired at a Providence station as the first reporter to be shooting and editing video, eight photographers were laid off. Pai has pointed to the evolution of social media as one reason the main studio regulation was no longer needed. “The public these days is much more likely to interact with stations (including accessing stations’ public files) online,” he said in a statement.
Nwosu, who is spending her fellowship researching how news organizations can better harness social video, sees the relationship between local news reporters and social media users differently. “There are times when we get news tips from social media, but we’re able to respond to the things that people say to us if we have a physical presence,” she said. “You can get in touch with a station in many ways nowadays, but to get that response and to get that looked into, you need boots on the ground.”
The hometown perspectiveJournalists can and often do travel to scenes for particular stories, but those tend to be events on a national scale such as the church shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas. But parachute-style journalism doesn’t guarantee that the reporting will be done effectively or in a way that builds trust in news organizations across the country. Austin-based Dallas Morning News reporter Lauren McGaughy drove the 90 minutes to the 600-person town after the gun had finished firing but before the wave of “hundreds of us — reporters, producers and photographers from all over the world” descended on the community. The “invasion” drove her to write an apology letter to the town’s residents for the media’s behavior in its coverage.
3/3 This won't be the last time we're forced to chronicle a horror like a mass shooting or natural disaster. But there's GOT to be a better way, and it's imsumbent on us to figure that out. https://t.co/KoS6xF1W31— Lauren McGaughy (@lmcgaughy) November 9, 2017
Jon Allsop also strategized methods for more respectful media coverage after mass shootings for Columbia Journalism Review, including relying on local partners to cover the story. The key to that, still, is having existing journalists who live in and are part of the community being reported on. Community-based TV stations still hold a significant stake, with 37 percent of adults receiving local news via TV in August 2017, according to Pew Research (a nine percent drop from early last year). “The majority of local Americans still get their local news from TV, particularly in a crisis. Local TV still resonates in the hearts and minds of Americans,” Ali, the media policy researcher, said. “We have a policy obligation to make sure local news is provided in the community…The free market won’t do it for us. There’s not enough advertising money in the community to support local news.” In October, it was the main studio rule. In November, it was media ownership. December will bring the tidings of net neutrality’s next chapter, all in attempt to stop “dragging the broadcast rules into the digital age,” Pai emphasizes. But for now, there are still journalists in the field, reporting on their communities, and there are still stories to be told, and in an industry with significant investment in infrastructure, the pace of the potential changes is hard to gauge. “I think the FCC ruling is just telling us that local TV news won’t be what it used to be,” Nwosu said. “It’s a big change and maybe people need to see that in order to realize that maybe there are better ways to produce local news and video content that isn’t made with expensive equipment…It’s an opportunity to make local news higher quality and more efficient. I think we’ll see more local news just produced in different ways.”