Will media mergers lead to recycled news?
When I sit down to watch the evening news, one of my favorite pastimes is to count how many stories were stolen from the newspaper that morning.
OK, so I live an odd life with even stranger TV-viewing habits. But you can see it practically every night if you look: stories shamelessly reported (sometimes as 'Exclusive!') with no mention of where they really originated.
Call it 'clip 'n' air.' Get some video, a sound bite or two, some fancy graphics, a reporter live on the scene, and you've got everything but the coupons and the puzzle page.
Certainly, nobody has ever been arrested for ripping off a story idea. Daily newspapers have hundreds more reporters, writers and editors than TV stations do. Yet TV newsrooms know there are thousands of viewers who never read the newspaper and wouldn't know Ñ or care Ñ who broke the story.
In many large markets, TV stations and the local daily newspaper have played nicey-nicey with one another Ñ to the point that stations have set up a camera in the newspaper newsroom, and even allow some of the print reporters to tell the story on TV. It's never been done in Portland Ñ in large part because The Oregonian has never been comfortable with having its reporters work for and report on TV or radio stations. (Full disclosure: Robert Pamplin Jr. owns the Portland Tribune, KPAM radio station and the Community Newspapers Inc. chain of suburban weeklies. The Tribune and KPAM often share resources.)
When Matt Zaffino's five-day forecast began showing up on the Oregonian's weather page some years back, I thought that might open the floodgates. But to this day, the most visible relationship the paper has with a TV station are the joint election polls The Oregonian conducts with KATU (2). Within the past year, KOIN (6) and the Tribune have joined forces on polling and some joint investigative reports Ñ something happening more and more around the country as media outlets try to increase their exposure and cross-promote.
But pretty soon, you're going to see a lot more 'sharing' between TV stations and newspapers. That's because in more and more cases, they'll be owned by the same company, thanks to an upcoming Federal Communications Commission ruling that is expected to relax rules on media ownership.
Newspaper companies will be allowed to buy up TV stations and vice versa Ñ something that was quite typical in the 1950s and '60s before the FCC put the kibosh on it. The FCC ruling is expected to increase the number of markets in which media conglomerates and TV networks will be allowed to buy multiple stations Ñ and, in the larger markets, increase the number of TV stations that may be jointly owned from two to three. That change won't affect Portland, but Portland has already seen its first 'duopoly,' with Meredith Broadcasting's purchase of both KPTV (12) and KPDX (49).
As trends go, this falls somewhere between neck tattoos and Tonya Harding's boxing career. Mergermania is happening everywhere in the business world, so no one expects the media to be exempt. But the way things are going, single companies will gain an overriding influence on news coverage.
One scary example: KTLA-TV in Los Angeles has one of its reporters in the Los Angeles Times newsroom who reports on stories being reported by the newspaper! It therefore comes as no surprise to discover that both the station and the paper are owned by the same company (the Chicago-based Tribune Co.).
With more media companies allowed to gobble up newspapers and purchase two and three stations within a single market, there is bound to be a lot less variety in what constitutes news.
If you think that there is a sameness in local TV newscasts now, just wait. TV news is going to be more homogenized than milk.