The Beginning of the End for Local News? FCC Passes Controversial Bill

At its core, every news story is local. Every story — no matter how big or small — originates from some community somewhere that has a more intimate understanding of the action at hand than the rest of the general public does.

Local news is both revered and reviled. Reporters still have to butter up local police chiefs, fire marshals and school board members to gain reputable sources. They also have to be more conscious of how the community’s feelings will impact the nature of a story than a national outlet might be under the same conditions.

All of that is in jeopardy, though. Earlier this week, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) passed a measure that removes the requirement for local news stations to have physical studios in their markets. In short, the measure potentially changes the game for how local news is made, broadcasted and received.

As an article from The Hill noted, the bill passed on party lines, 3-2, in favor of the Republican wing of the FCC board. MediaFile profiled FCC Chairman Ajit Pai back in April, and he argued for this decision, saying that “the record shows that main studios are no longer needed to enable broadcasters to be responsive to their communities of license.”

The ramifications from this could spread much wider than eliminating television studios in smaller markets. Reporting jobs will be lost as a result of outlets possibly being forced to close due to this rule.

Anchor work will also be harder to come by, as anchors can now serve a multitude of markets at the same time, all from one central studio that could represent a series of counties, or even a series of states.

The FCC’s decision threatens local news as we know it today.

One of the big winners from this decision could very well be Sinclair Broadcast Group, whose model of scooping up small-market stations could grow exponentially. It’s already in place to do that through its merger with Tronc, but this could lead to a monopoly of local news that may be too far along to be stopped.

An article from Mother Jones explained why Sinclair could change the local news industry entirely as a result of this move. The right-leaning media conglomerate has already started lumping together small-size and medium-sized markets — namely by sourcing its news for Toledo, Ohio, from South Bend, Ind. Criticism of that move could be irrelevant if this strategy becomes the new norm.

Perhaps the biggest victims of this decision are local news constituents. The decision from the FCC shows that the focus is quickly transitioning from consumers of news to their producers. Stories will be less personal, less specific and less scrutinized as a result.

The final product will suffer, and the consumers will be left to determine on their own what’s happening in their communities.

It’s hard to envision anything changing this rule, and the good news is that time is on the local news media’s side. It will take a while for the industry to adapt to this change, so local news watchers should be safe for now.

But the concept of a “favorite local news channel” or a “favorite local news anchor” could soon be a remnant of the past if the FCC’s decision permeates throughout the industry the way it very well could.

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