Prepackaged News

As local TV stations are struggling to fill more hours of air-time, syndicated news stories are appearing on local newscasts across the country.

TV Networks such as ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC, and CNN have pumped out syndicated stories to their affiliates across the nation for decades. However, today so many more stations receive and use the stories from such feeds now than they did in the past.

Syndicated feature stories used to run only when a local story ran late or fell through, according to Deborah Potter,  executive director of NewsLab. Today, fluffy fodder has become a staple rather than a fallback for local news operations as they are now forced to fill huge amounts of air time.

Is this a problem? Conan O’Brien highlighted the humor in this issue when he strung together 28  nearly identical clips of stone-faced local news anchors repeating the opening line “Is this the end of e-mail overload?” while introducing a syndicated story about a new software program. This story went out to CNN Newsource’s over 800 affiliates and aired on at least 225 stations.

A lapse of experience in local news rooms has also been cited as a contribution to the prevalence of prepackaged news. Average pay at local TV stations rose by just 2 percent in 2011, failing to keep up with inflation. “That’s likely the result of stations adding people who are mostly entry-level– or at least paid at a noticeably lower rate than existing staff,” says Bob Papper of Hofstra University. As pay has remained stagnant, air-time has increased by more than an hour since 2008.

Are media corporations more qualified than our local journalists to bring us the news? Is there any danger in relying heavily on network corporations to bring us the news? Is there any hope to improve local news stations?

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