Comcast-NBCU merger could be boost for nonprofit news operations

In its list of promises to the FCC, Comcast has committed to stimulate the growth of nonprofit news organizations if it is allowed to merge with NBC Universal.

According to a report in The New York Times, the cable operator said it is committed to a strategy of “hyperlocalism” and has pledged to establish partnerships between news nonprofits and at least five of the 10 NBC TV stations that are owned by NBC Universal.

The partnerships will be modeled on an existing relationship between KNSD, the NBC-owned station in San Diego, and Voice of San Diego, a local news organization that relies on donations from foundations, corporations and readers.

The Comcast promise to the FCC could be an advantage to nonprofits that are gathering news in metropolitan areas — in some cases filling the gap where downsized newspaper newsrooms exist. The cable operator said it would keep the arrangements with the nonprofits in place for at least three years.

The hyperlocalism plan was outlined in a letter to the FCC Dec. 23. Most reports focused instead on a Comcast promise to provide $10/month service to some low-income clients, ignoring the promise about nonprofit news.

Dec. 23 was also the same day that leaks from the commission said that Chairman Julius Genachowski would support the merger as long as a number of net neutrality-related conditions were attached.

Comcast had already pledged to preserve the news and public affairs programming on the NBC stations and to increase the output of such programming by 1000 hours a year, mostly through online and on-demand extensions.

The commitment to the news nonprofits, however, is new. Analysts told the Times that commitments like this are intended to smooth the way to approval for such a deal.

In San Diego, KNSD and Voice of San Diego have been sharing content, fact-checking politicians and promoting each other’s websites. “Some of our bigger investigative pieces have a lot more impact when we are able to pair them with a broadcast version,” Scott Lewis, the chief executive of Voice of San Diego, told the newspaper.

Also notable is that KNSD pays the nonprofit news operation a monthly fee. “It’s been a huge deal,” Lewis added.

Comcast did not identify where it would set up news partnerships, but along with San Diego, NBC operates stations in New York; Los Angeles; Washington, D.C.; Philadelphia; Chicago; Miami; San Jose, CA; Dallas-Fort Worth; and West Hartford, CT.

The FCC is set to vote on the merger most likely after the commissioners return from the CES in Las Vegas.