The decision of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on net neutrality has gathered public scrutiny. However, the repeal of a variety of regulations could reshape local TV newsrooms.
The FCC oversees the television, phone, and radio industries in the United States. In late October, it was announced the FCC would be doing away with the Main Studio Rule: Radio and TV stations will no longer be required to have a studio near the community they broadcast.
In November, the FCC rolled back the rules on broadcast ownership. This was done in hopes of a greater industry consolidation.
According to assistant professor of telecommunication policy at the University of Virginia and former FCC intern Christopher Ali: “The main studio rule was one of the last bastions of localism regulation we have…Everyone keeps saying local is important. Even the FCC keeps saying this. But they’re eliminating the rules that protect localism.”
The Telecommunications Act of 1996 was supposed to build the “Information Superhighway” and a time for radio consolidation. The act encouraged the approach of broadcast radio from a national level and narrowed opportunities for locally owned stations.
As a result, by 2002, Clear Channel (iHeartMedia) grew from 40 stations to 1,240 across the country. This was 30 times more than was previously permitted by congressional regulation, according to the advocacy nonprofit Future of Music Coalition. Only the illusion of locality remained. Hundreds of DJs were laid off and they were replaced with hosts, who broadcasted to multiple markets at the same time.
Clear Channel was criticized for its size and influence on artist development and music playlists. The company assimilated the sound of FM radio and “strong-armed acts into playing company venues in return for airplay.” Clear Channel posted a “myths versus facts” page on its website to counteract the criticisms.
Both radio and broadcast television have encountered the hurdle of online programming. The recent FCC changes could mean “another watershed moment in an already fraught industry,” according to Neiman Lab.
Nneka Nwosu Faison is a Boston-based reporter who wonders if the retraction of the main studio rule will be the end of local news. “If all you have is a hub, you’re never going to have stories that are specific to that town or market. What our national leaders are saying on Twitter doesn’t affect what’s going on with the Johnson family in their schools and their trash pickup or snow removal.”
Lobby group, The National Association of Broadcasters said the main studio rule was no longer useful. This is the era of mobile newsgathering and multiple content delivery platforms. The group expected the money saved would be put into better programming and equipment to serve the local communities.
The National Association of Broadcasters called the media ownership rules irrational but said, “…they have also weakened the newspaper industry, cost journalism jobs and forced local broadcast stations onto unequal footing with our national pay-TV and radio competitors.”
The news director at KAMR/KCIT, owned by Nexstar in Amarillo, Texas, told a local reporter, “It’s called local news for a reason. A lot of what we do is about relationships. You need to know the people where you live, how the people think.”
However, the change has been felt and local reporters are losing their jobs because advertising money is moving from broadcasting to online platforms. People are losing their jobs while reporters are having to take on film, photography, and editing.
Some blame the evolution of social media for the retraction of the studio regulation. The public would prefer to interact with stations and stream the show in their free time. Americans aged 18-29 use streaming as the primary means for accessing television shows.
Nwosu is spending her fellowship researching how news organizations can use social media to their advantage. There are multiple ways to reach a station and with social media you can even respond in real time, however, in order to have a situation looked into, boots on the ground is best.
Traveling to get the story does not mean the report will be effective or build trust in news organizations. For example, Lauren McGaughy, a Dallas Morning News reporter drove from Austin to the location of the church shooting only to write an apology letter to the 600-person town for the media’s behavior.
The FCC decisions are changing things at a fast pace, however, Nwosu is hopeful there will be more local news produced in different ways.
By Jeanette Smith
Neiman Lab: The FCC is swiftly changing national media policy. What does that mean on the local level?
Image Courtesy of Joshua Delaughter’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License