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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Newspapers: There is Hope!

As the economy struggles to recover, newspapers are dropping like flies. The overall lack of funds in the United States has trickled down to newspapers and, much to our dismay, many have fallen. The funds to support investigative journalism have drastically fallen and many journalists have found themselves suddenly unemployed, but in the ashes of the fading medium, there is hope. A recent study by the Pew Research Center shows that people still use newspapers as a primary source for information.

The study shows that the top sources for local topics are newspapers, television, internet, and radio. Newspapers serve as the top source for news on community events, crime, taxes, local government, arts and culture, social services, zoning and development. They also tied with internet for top source for news on housing, school, and jobs, and with television for local political news.

This is good for current and rising journalists because it proves that if the big city job doesn’t work out, local news is thriving and evolving. Public Affairs may be on a low, but it’s not dead and it’s making a comeback.