Zombie TV Stations: No One Is Home

Earlier this week, we reported on the growing citizen protest surrounding a media merger in Hawaii. The media companies at the heart of the merger are trying to sneak around the FCC by consolidating three television stations without transferring ownership. In the end, the stations’ letterhead may have different logos, but this deal would effectively merge all three newsroom operations into one.

But newsroom consolidation isn’t just a problem in Hawaii. In today’s Los Angeles Times, James Rainey describes a similar deal between KCOP-TV and KTTV-TV in California. “The merging of KCOP-TV and KTTV-TV has left the former not even a shell of its previous self, unless beefcake and dancing anchors count,” Rainey writes. “The losers: Angelenos who crave real, local reporting.”

KCOP and KTTV are both owned by Fox Television, but less than a year ago, each station was still offering separate newscasts. Then in December, KCOP cancelled its own newscast and replaced it with KTTV’s. To top it off, KTTV and KCOP entered into a “local news sharing” agreement in June with the NBC- and Tribune-owned stations in Los Angeles. This means that four of the top stations in the Los Angeles market are sharing news coverage instead of competing against one another for stories.

We have been calling these arrangements “covert consolidation” for the underhanded way they seek to skirt media ownership rules. But Rainey may have come up with something better. “In the television news business, they call them duopolies,” notes Rainey. “How about a more descriptive name? Zombie stations.”

The trend continues as we move east. A recent deal between Granite Broadcasting and Barrington Broadcasting resulted in mass layoffs in Syracuse and Peoria. TVNewsCheck detailed the deal, “In Syracuse, Barrington’s NBC affiliate WSTM took over Granite’s CBS affiliate WTVH. Meanwhile, in Peoria, Granite’s NBC affiliate WEEK took over Barrington’s ABC affiliate WHOI. Technically, all four stations will continue to air news, but, in fact, two stations, WTVH and WHOI, have ceased to exist as independent journalistic enterprises.”

Regardless of location, Big Media’s talking points around these mergers all sound the same. Rainey reports that in L.A., “corporate executives promised duopolies could help save, rather than continue to emasculate, local news.” In Syracuse and Peoria, it’s the same story: “In their press release, Barrington CEO Jim Yager and Granite CEO Don Cornwell gushed about how the deal would improve service to the good citizens of Syracuse and Peoria,” TVNewsCheck reported. In Hawaii, the companies are blaming the economy and describe the deal “as a matter of survival.”

But is it survival when three stations turn into one? If this deal is about survival, we have to ask what will survive the deal.

(This was originally posted at SaveTheNews.org)

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