Pros and cons of sharing news video

It’s happening everywhere. Stations from Tampa to Los Angeles are forming local partnerships to share news video. The arrangements vary from market to market, but so far stations owned by Fox, Gannett, Scripps, Tribune and Meredith have jumped into the new pools.

The benefits for the stations are obvious. Sending one photographer to cover an event for several news organizations at once should save all of them money. The networks have been doing it in Washington, DC, for years. Among the other arguments in favor:

  • Video from pre-arranged events like news conferences all looks the same anyway, so there’s really no need to send more than one photographer.
  • Stations that participate in pools will have more photographers available to shoot enterprise stories that could make each station’s newscasts more distinctive.

Not everyone is buying it. Emily Barr, news director at WLS-TV in Chicago, is keeping her station out of the pool. She told the Chicago Sun-Times that sharing video could compromise her station’s independence and flexibility. It’s probably no coincidence that WLS is the top-rated station in Chicago. The number one station in Atlanta, WSB-TV, isn’t joining the pool arrangement there, either.

No market has been doing this long enough to measure the real impact on local TV news. But some concerns may be well founded:

  • Stations using pools could decide to cut their staff rather than redeploy them to cover other stories. That could make local newscasts even more alike than they are now.
  • Stations may decide not to send their own reporters to events that are pooled, so they won’t get any independent coverage.
  • Even if reporters are present, they may not be able to use a pool camera to shoot unilateral footage. That’s been a problem in DC for years. In my experience, it was almost impossible to get a second, independent camera sent to a pooled event.

My former colleage at Poynter, Jill Geisler, warns of other hazards, including the possibility that events designed to draw pool coverage will proliferate, as pols and PR types learn how to game the new system.

But video sharing appears to be on the verge of becoming the new normal. Should viewers worry that stations are saving money at the expense of quality ? Or will these collaborations actually improve local TV news?

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