Chicago stations join to share video crews for ENG

Beginning May 11, four major Chicago television stations will begin sharing video crews for their newscasts. Depending on one’s view, it could be a smart, highly effective money-saving measure in tough economic times or another nail in the coffin of independent television news.

NBC’s WMAQ, CBS’s WBBM, FOX’s WFLD, and Tribune’s WGN have agreed to pool two camera crews from each station for local news footage. ABC’s WLS, the market’s top rated station, refused to participate in the sharing plan through the jointly-operated Local News Service (LNS). The station said it chooses to remain independent and flexible with its news coverage.

An assignment editor and a managing editor at LNS will direct the video crews. Tony Capriolo, a WMAQ sports producer, has been selected as managing editor of the service. The pool crews will record press conferences, sporting events and other stories normally covered by all the stations individually. By pooling the crews, the stations’ management said, they will be able to concentrate on more important stories.

The unedited pool footage will be fed to each station for use as they see fit throughout their news programming schedules. Each station pledged to preserve its “editorial integrity” with the arrangement and argued it was necessary in these difficult economic times.

Chicago, though the largest, is not the first city to pool news crews. NBC and FOX launched a similar program in Philadelphia, and later expanded it to Dallas. Then came Chicago. Phoenix, AZ, and Cleveland, OH, have also agreed to such arrangements.

In Phoenix, KPHO, the CBS affiliate, has joined ABC affiliate KNXV and FOX affiliate KSAZ in their own local news service. The three stations will now rely on a single video crew to cover what they deem as “routine news events.” NBC affiliate KPNX and independent KTVK remain the only holdouts from the Phoenix news-sharing agreement.

In Cleveland, NBC affiliate WKYC and CBS affiliate WOIO have reached a similar pool agreement.

There is disagreement over whether such pooling arrangements will homogenize local news coverage or will enhance it. The stations all argue it will help each station reinforce coverage by allowing more signature reporting.

However, most of the stations engaged in pooling have already cut their staffs to the bone due to loss of advertising. Declining revenues, fractured audiences and the continuing need to reduce costs have many stations cornered.

Partnerships, content-sharing and outsourcing are not surprising solutions to such economic problems. Though pooling vehicles like LNS could work, as cost pressure continues to bear down on station executive,s it would be easy for LNS to turn into a way for member stations to reduce newsroom personnel and other staff.

This is the big fear, and big unknown, of content sharing.