May 29, 2012


The headline in today’s New York Times says it all: “You Can Change the Channel, but Local News Is the Same.”
In a front-page story, the Times exposes a widespread but little-known problem: Your local CBS station just might be producing the news for your local NBC affiliate. Or your local ABC station might be providing the news for your local Fox station.Though the specifics vary from community to community, the end result — copycat newscasts — is the same.
The good news? The Federal Communications Commission is now taking a closer look at this practice. We need thousands of people to tell the FCC that we want diverse local news coverage — and not the same content on channel after channel.
Free Press has been tracking covert consolidation for years.2
Here’s the deal: One company takes control of multiple stations in a given market, often laying off entire newsrooms at the absorbed stations. Then the new owner centralizes news production, going to great lengths to preserve the illusion of editorial independence. The practice has killed more than 500 newsroom jobs — and left viewers with far fewer sources of local news.
How widespread is this problem? In at least 83 of the nation’s 210 television markets, broadcasters are airing the same cookie-cutter programming on two, three or even four stations in the same community. They use the same reporters and even the same anchors. 
In San Angelo, the Texas city profiled in the Times, identical stories appear on KSAN and KLST, but different branding appears on the screen. Unless you’re in the habit of flipping back and forth during the news hour, you’d have no idea that these supposedly competing stations are delivering an identical product.
The FCC could propose new media ownership rules as early as this summer. Let's keep up the public pressure to make covert consolidation a thing of the past.