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By Brian Setler May 28, 2012
SAN ANGELO, Tex. 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.
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
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
Move this whole section up, swapping places with the section above it.
Lt. Christina Lopez of the sheriffs office in Tom Green County, Tex., on KLST, top, and KSAN, two TV stations in San Angelo.
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.
The rise of the agreements resembles the retrenchment of the American newspaper industry, but it has been far less publicized.
The Federal Communications Commission does not know how many agreements exist between stations, making it impossible to judge their effects. But Julius Genachowski,
the F.C.C. chairman, indicated last week that the commission was
beginning to study the issue. Its something were taking a close look
at the F.C.C. he said. He sounded especially curious about what he
called behind-the-scenes cooperation between stations that
collaboratively sell ads and negotiate contracts with distributors.
Even as Internet use rises, local television remains the No. 1 source of news for most Americans. Theres an honored history parodied in the film Anchorman of competition between stations, just as there used to be between newspapers in some major cities.
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.
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
nations 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 studys authors wrote.)
Reports on KLST and KSAN about construction.
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.
sharing is evident, too, in San Angelo, a low-rise city of 93,000 where
the market price of West Texas intermediate crude is shown before the
Dow, and where hunting and fishing times are shown after the weather
anchors are different at the NBC station KSAN and the CBS station KLST,
but they read similar scripts in side-by-side studios. Its almost
comical, for a viewer flipping the channel back and forth, to see
identical segments about spot news and health. (The weather segments,
however, have different graphics and hosts.)
anchors and reporters at the stations declined interview requests,
citing company policy. But Mr. Sook said the stations were a perfect
example of the purpose of a shared services agreement. Without the
agreement, he said, KSAN would have no local news at all, because it
would not be profitable.
Together, the two stations employ about 35 people. They jointly decide what news stories to cover.
dont mean for this to be a criticism, but it really cuts down on
competition, said Ty Meighan, a former reporter for The San Angelo
Standard-Times who is now a spokesman for the city. Competition makes
the media better.
and KSAN have the only local television news in town. The Fox station
in town, KIDY, rebroadcasts the news from San Antonio, a four-hour drive
away. On the bottom of the screen, headlines from local newspapers
scroll by, the product of another kind of a shared services agreement
this time with the E.W. Scripps Company, the owner of the papers.
Texas stations KLST and KSAN,
though separately owned, operate from the same building and share
office space, news video and scripts.
Brian Stelter/The New York Times
McCoy, the owner of KIDY, said he believed such arrangements were
necessary in small markets. It can cost up to $1 million to run a TV
news operation in a market the size of San Angelos. It is very
difficult, if not impossible, to generate enough revenue to justify the
expense for a locally produced newscast, he said.
he and other television executives say, have new options nowadays,
including their own Web sites and pages on social media sites, which cut
out the TV middlemen. KLST and KSAN are like two flavors of ice cream,
chocolate and mint chocolate chip intended to attract more people than
just one flavor would.
interest groups have criticized the cutbacks at local newsrooms because
they reduce the number of editorial voices in a given market. They
assert that because TV stations hold licenses to the public airwaves,
they have a responsibility to serve local communities. The same
cookie-cutter content above a different graphic doesnt cut it, said
Craig Aaron, the head of Free Press, a nonprofit media reform group that
has gathered case studies of sharing by stations.
of all, maybe, is that well never know whats missing what dirt
isnt being dug up, what questions arent asked, what stories are going
uncovered, Mr. Aaron said, calling the sharing covert consolidation.
station owners say they would prefer to have more overt consolidation.
They share, they say, because federal media ownership rules forbid them
from outright ownership of more than one of the top stations in a single
market. (Many exceptions exist, however, called duopolies.)
Nexstar could own both KLST and KSAN in San Angelo, for instance, we
could generate further efficiencies, Mr. Sook said, and some of that
additional operating income would be reinvested into the local news
product. That outcome, however, would still diminish the media
diversity of the market, a major goal of the governments ownership
rules, which are now undergoing a review.
way, for some people, the dearth of competition is an opportunity. For
Mr. Meighan, the San Angelo city spokesman, having just one TV reporter
at City Council meetings (rather than three or four) gives him more
reason to reach citizens directly through a city-produced cable channel and YouTube channel.
What we try to do what weve had to do, really is get our message out through other means, he said.
Originally published by The New York Times.