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Can someone answer this question for me? Why do viewers pick one station over another in a particular market for their local newscast?

ÊÊWhen you really think about it, itÕs a hard question to answer. I can tune to the number one station in town one night and watch the number three station the next night; their newscasts look almost exactly the same.

You have two anchors (male and female) with plastic hair, sitting at a plastic desk, in front of a plastic cutout of the city behind them. They all cover the same exact stories (usually whatever was the big story in that dayÕs paper), give the same weather forecast (at the exact same time), followed by two minutes of sports and a quick little kicker story at the end.

After watching the different newscasts, I am even more perplexed at why one station is number one and another is number three.

Do people watch because they like one anchor more than the other? Is it the type of colors of the plastic set? Is it their slogan (like, ÒHometown Advantage,Ó ÒStanding Up For You,Ó ÒWhere The News Comes First,Ó ÒCoverage You Can Count On,Ó or ÒOur Helicopter Is Bigger Than Their HelicopterÓ)?

I am sure some news director will say that the viewers watch us ÒBecause we do a better job then the other stations.Ó But in reality they all look the same. I can hardly tell the difference. Years ago in Miami, WSVN had a newscast that was truly different. The newscast was very fast-paced, with graphics flying all over the place and a style that was in your face. I was living in South Florida at the time and loved watching WSVN. I could also see why some people would hate to watch that style of news: It was a newscast that you either loved or hated.

Then, over the years, the other stations tried to copy WSVN. So WSVN pulled back to be more like the other stations. Now...all the newscasts in Miami look almost exactly the same.

Stations pay big bucks to consultants to help them shape the look and feel of their newscasts. In reality they are just paying to look like another station in another market. If you travel around the country and watch different newscasts, you can tell which one is using which consultant.

Try watching the Gannett stations in Buffalo, Cleveland, and Denver sometime. Other than a different plastic background and different plastic anchors, the newscasts look exactly the same. With the FCC relaxing the ownership rules, newscasts all around the country will start to look even more alike. ItÕs kind of like when you watch those sci-fi shows on TV about the future. Everyone is wearing the same outfitÑa tight v-neck shirt with a little crest over the right breast.

Ratings prove that less people are watching newscasts now. And the numbers continue to drop. So what makes anyone think they are doing news the right way? What if a station got rid of their consultant, changed the entire look of their news, threw out the plastic desk, chucked the plastic cutout of the city, quit doing any nationals sports and made it all local, moved weather to a different time in the newscast, maybe added a third anchor, and didnÕt do any stories out of the paper?

What if?

What if someone had the balls to really do something different? Would more people watch? Who knows? But you also know that no one will have the guts to try it.

So keep watching reruns of Lost In Space on TV Land...this is the future of TV news. If you ask me, the future is not very bright.

Danger, Will Robinson! Danger!

Scott Jones is a former photographer, reporter, assignment editor, producer, executive producer, and Top 20 news director. He runs www.ftvlive.com and can be reached by email at sjones@uemedia.com.