Is this a trend? A station in northeast Pennsylvania pulled the plug on its local newscasts this month and gave the entire news staff only a few hours notice that they were all being fired. WYOU-TV’s newscasts were produced by one of its competitors, WBRE-TV, and consistently finished a distant third in the ratings. Killing those newscasts reportedly will save $900,000 a year.
So will other struggling news operations be next on the chopping block? Absolutely, says Broadcasting & Cable:
With local television going through the worst slump of most any broadcasting veteran’s career, station insiders say numerous groups are taking a hard look at underperforming news departments. While local news represents a hefty chunk of revenue, it increasingly doesn’t pay to keep a fourth-place outfit afloat.
Local stations from Washington, DC, to Columbus, Ga., have dropped some of their newscasts this year in an effort to cut costs. Others have shifted newscasts to different time slots to avoid head-to-head competition with more successful newscasts. But getting out of news entirely is rare, because stations typically make about 50% of their revenue from local news.
The prediction that other stations will follow WYOU’s move speaks to the severity of the economic crisis that has swamped the local television business. Who will go next? B&C quotes consultants as saying “the earmarks of a station set to possibly scrap news are a debt-ridden parent company, being part of a duopoly, broadcasting in a small market and ratings in the 1s and 2s.”
If they’re right, people working in news at those kinds of stations should brace themselves. When the axe falls, it will be bad news for them. But what about the audience? I’d argue that it’s not always a bad thing when a station dumps local news–and by the way, this isn’t the first time we’ve seen this kind of retrenchment. Lots of stations got into producing local news simply to make money, doing it on the cheap with no concern for quality. If those stations kill their newscasts, the public isn’t likely to be any less well served.