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News Sharing Arrangement Goes South

ATLANTA: News sharing is all the rage among TV stations trying to cut costs, but the CBS affiliate in this Georgia metropolis found the savings wasn’t worth the loss of identity. WGCL-TV, the Meredith-owned CBS station in Atlanta, pulled out of a local news-sharing triad in the market earlier this month. The station had formed an alliance just a few weeks earlier with WAGA-TV, the Fox O&O, and WXIA-TV, the NBC owned by Gannett. Doug Richards, a former WAGA reporter, wrote about the collapse at his news analysis blog, Live Apartment Fire, so-named for what he calls the “most incendiary cliché in Atlanta TV news.”

“WGCL got out after a series of questionable LNS assignments: It shot press conferences WGCL didn’t want to use. It shot a promotional event for a grocery store. It shot AFLAC night at a Braves game. And LNS is apparently slow to respond to breaking news, probably because the TV stations are playing chicken with one another to see who knows about what breaking news, and how soon,” Richards wrote.

A WGCL executive confirmed the split with B&C’s Michael Malone:
“We felt the need to cover different [stories], and this limited our ability to do that.”

WXIA and WAGA continue sharing local news as well as a news chopper. WGCL hadn’t signed on to share the chopper; Richards wondered when financial pressure would “compel” the station to reconsider. Analyst Rich Greenfield of Pali Capital muses likewise. Greenfield sees a bleak future for the current model of local news, noting that viewership is down 20 percent among people 25-54 over the last four years.

Greenfield sees LNS as a necessity as auto-related revenues evaporate at TV stations across the country. Stations started experimenting with news sharing several years ago, but the concept caught fire in the last year as revenues slid. The CBS, NBC, Fox and CW affils share news in New York and Chicago. Fox, NBC and CW share in Los Angeles and Dallas. Of the top 15 U.S. TV markets, 13 have news-sharing arrangements among TV stations.

Smaller markets on record to date with LNS pools include No. 57 Albany, N.Y., where Hubbard-owned WNYT-TV, the NBC affiliates, shares resources with WRGB, the CBS affiliate owned by Freedom. In Austin, Texas, market No. 49, affiliates of the Big Four share--Fox, NBC, ABC and CBS.

­-- Deborah D. McAdams

More TVB coverage on Local News Sharing:
July 14, 2009“Analyst is Lukewarm on the Future of Local News”
“The idea behind LNS is for all general news, non-investigative stories, two or more stations create a separate newsgathering team where the video content is shared by all the partners within the joint venture. This enables stations to reduce costs and/or redeploy resources to increase investigative journalism--what supposedly differentiates one station from another.”