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Local TV News Under Siege

kim hart macneill

As the large networks close smaller affiliate stations, is there hope for local television news?

As the large networks close small affiliate stations, is there hope for the future of local television news?

The sky is falling on news, said Mike Katrycz, but this isn’t the first time.

The veteran news director joined a panel discussion called “Local TV News Under Siege” at Ryerson Journalism School on Wednesday night. With him were CTV managing editor Adrian Bateman, CBC managing editor Sophia Hadzipetros, and CITY Toronto reporter Farah Nasser.

Katrycz used the rise of the Toronto Sun from the ashes of the Toronto Telegram as an example of news organizations adapting to changing times. When the Telegram closed in October 1971, a group of the newsroom staff started the Sun immediately. The new tabloid sized paper was radically different from its broadsheet predecessor, and is still in print.

CHCH’s story is similar. Katrycz and his team were told the station was up for sale, and slated to close at the end of August if no buyer emerged. The newsroom managers changed the format to all-day news to try something different. The station sold a few weeks ago, but Katrycz and his staff will have to wait to see the numbers before they know if their gamble paid off, or hiring any new staff.

The panel members seemed eager to share the innovations they’d made at their stations to “save the news.” CHCH adopted a news wheel format, like CP24, repeating pre-packaged burst of news which are periodically updated. CBC stations nation wide switched to a new 90 minute supper hour newscast, similar to what CITY was already doing. Both Hadzipetros and Nasser said their long-format local news offers them the chance to tell each story from different angles.

While this all sounded very hopeful, it doesn’t really match up with what we’re seeing. Slashed budgets, and stations and newspapers folding across the country are high on my radar, being a recent J-school grad with looming student loan payments. Longer local newscasts are just that: longer. The same number of staff, and in some newsrooms fewer staff, are filing an extra half hour of news.

Near the end of the question period, a recent journalism grad stepped up to the mic. Her story echoed my thoughts. After graduation, she moved from Toronto to Brandon, MB to work for a small TV station. On her second day of work, the station manager announced they would close by the end of the summer. Now she’s back in Toronto looking for another job.

The road may be paved with technological advancement in Toronto, but the GTA is double the population of the four Maritime provinces combined. Smaller centres, the ones who rely on TV news, are in trouble. The networks need to realize that the small local stations are the roots that feed the big network stations, Adrian Bateman said to loud applause last night. It was a nice sentiment, but he was preaching to the choir in a room full of journalists and current journalism students—who will soon be out looking for their own jobs.

RTNDA Canada plans to podcast a video of the discussion on their website in the future.

UPDATE: The podcast is now online.

[Original creative-commons photo by lawgeek]

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