Academic journal article Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media

Radio Reverb: The Impact of "Local" News Reimported to Its Own Community

Academic journal article Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media

Radio Reverb: The Impact of "Local" News Reimported to Its Own Community

Article excerpt

"I've never been to Omaha, but we do your local news," a member of a large radio conglomerate matter-of-factly told a college professor with Nebraska roots. Omaha, with a population of almost 400,000, is one of many markets throughout the United States in which part of its "local" radio news is actually produced and delivered from a remote location, sometimes hundreds of miles away and often in other states, as corporations seek to increase cost-efficiency by reducing local staffs and providing more programming from a central location.

The State of the News Media 2004 report by the Project for Excellence in Journalism, citing figures from the Radio-TV News Directors Association, noted that more than 40% of radio stations do news for one or more stations outside their own market. The report asserted: "Consolidation has made original local public affairs content more of an afterthought ... and the data available suggest a growing number of stations are not local at all, despite a high desire among audiences for local information" (Project for Excellence in Journalism, 2004, Radio introduction, para. 3).

Former Federal Communications Commission (FCC) commissioner Gloria Tristani called this trend "outsourced news" during a speech in which she identified loss of localism as one of the main risks of consolidation. Calling localism "the bedrock of our broadcast system," Tristani (1998) argued:

   It's not that big chains ... can't or won't serve the local
   communities in which they operate. They can and do. But I still
   think it can be more difficult for them to reflect the particular
   needs of their local communities when more and more decisions are
   made on a regional and national basis. (p. 4, italics in original)

Technology and deregulation have made radio a locus for the blurring between local and nonlocal programming. Much commentary has been written in the popular and trade press about practices associated with consolidation, such as "voice-tracking" in music and entertainment programming (e.g., Carpenter, 2004; Dotinga, 2002; Mathews, 2002). Not nearly as much has been written on questions of local radio news and whether taking it out of its local context changes its character in fundamental ways.

Yet consolidation of resources is blurring the lines of what is local in local radio news, who is delivering it, and from where. The system of remotely produced local newscasts in an increasing number of communities across the country raises important questions about the essence of localness in local news and the impact on the communities served by such a system. How do remotely produced local newscasts compare to locally produced news in providing the community its news? What are the implications when decisions about what to include in a local newscast are made without knowing the context of the community? How much of newsworthiness is defined by standard news conventions versus local contexts?

These questions become more critical with the growth of outsourced news. As Huntemann (1999) argued:

   Without local news staffs devoted to reporting small-town issues as
   well as national briefs, audiences receive canned regional news that
   may only occasionally cover issues reflecting the listener's
   immediate geographical area. Regional or wire news staffs are harder
   to hold accountable simply because they are more difficult to reach.
   With a larger area to cover, regional staffs cannot be in touch with
   community happenings, do not have time to interview local citizens,
   or cannot devote in-depth coverage to local news events. (p. 403)

Or, as the Project for Excellence in Journalism's (2004) State of the News Media report put it, "What is the impact on local cities if there are fewer people, and certainly fewer people working as journalists, at the local radio station?" (Radio Ownership, para. 8). The 2005 report further elaborated on the issue:

   Beyond the obvious problems of presentation, such as pronunciation
   and local knowledge, how can people provide a real news service to
   an area without even being there to cover it? … 
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