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Subject: AEJ 06 DanielsG RTVJ A Centralcasting Postmortem and a News-Share Projection: Using Market Theory to Assess Alternative Local Television News Strategies
From: Elliott Parker <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:AEJMC Conference Papers <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Tue, 31 Oct 2006 18:49:53 -0500
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This paper was presented at the Association for Education in Journalism and
Mass Communication in San Francisco August 2006.
        I am not the author. If you have questions about this paper, 
please contact the author directly.
	If you have questions about the archives, email rakyat [ at ] 
eparker.org. For an explanation of the subject line, send email to
[log in to unmask] with just the four words, "get help info aejmc," in the
body (drop the "").

(Oct 2006)
Thank you.
Elliott Parker
====================================================================

A Centralcasting Postmortem and a News-Share Projection:
Using Market Theory to Assess Alternative Local Television News Strategies


AEJMC Annual Convention
Radio-Television Journalism Division
August 2-6, 2006
San Francisco, CA

ABSTRACT
	In the wake of decisions by two television station groups to end 
centralcasting experiments,  this paper employed market theory to 
compare both the centralcasting and contracted newscast products with 
the traditional newscast products.  A total of 22 newscasts were 
recorded and analyzed between 2004 and 2005 in three Southern 
markets.  Results showed in the 2,583 stories analyzed more 
similarities than differences between the traditionally-staffed local 
news operations and the operations produced with alternative staffing.

	Like a postmortem, the meeting held after a newscast is over about 
the positives and negatives of the news program, a similar discussion 
can now be held about the much-publicized newscast strategy known as 
centralcasting.   Recently, officials at the Sinclair Broadcast Group 
acknowledged the lack of success of their highly controversial 
centralized new operation as they eliminated newscasts on all of 
their WB stations and killed jobs for dozens of employees in at least 
a half-dozen markets (Romano, 2006).  At nearly the same time, a 
Charlotte-based station group that three years ago tried to 
centralize the production of the news for its Columbia, South 
Carolina station nixed the idea of broadcasting from Charlotte and 
inaugurated a downtown newsroom in Columbia with the South Carolina 
Statehouse in the backdrop.  This latter case of centralcasting by 
Bahakel Communications along with the Sinclair's failed NewsCentral 
experiment suggest the importance of local news being really 
local.  But, a closer analysis of the content of these shows 
suggested even more about the practice of local television journalism.
	In several markets, Sinclair Broadcast Group has replaced its 
centralcasts with newscasts that are "contracted out" in so-called 
"news share" agreements where a competing station produces its local 
news.  According to recent industry reports, such partnerships allow 
a station to maintain a news "presence" and reap the advertising 
revenue without shouldering the costs of staffing, equipment and 
production (Romano, 2006).  While Sinclair has converted its 
centralcasts to contracted newscasts in its Birmingham, Pittsburgh 
and Las Vegas markets, it's already using contracted newscasts on its 
station in Richmond, Virginia.   Other station groups have been using 
news-share agreements for years.
	Rather than simply repeating the "I told you so" comments of those 
naysayers of centralcasting or the criticisms of those wary of lack 
of independent voices producing local news, this paper employed 
market theory to compare both the centralcasting and contracted 
newscast products with the traditional newscast products. Even before 
the most recent announcements signaling the "death" of 
centralcasting, there were opportunities to examine whether true 
differences lie between the newscasts produced with alternative 
strategies( i.e. centralcasting and news-share agreements) and news 
programs where a traditional, independent staff of local reporters 
and editors was used.
       In its evaluation of these local news products, this study 
centered on attributes other than ratings, which speak more to the 
public interest value of the program.   Among them are the local news 
and information contained in the program, the degree to which the 
information is unique among local news offerings in the market and 
the potential role the information might play in helping consumers be 
wise spenders and more informed citizens.  Grounded in market theory, 
these attributes have been applied more to the stations not 
practicing what is known as market-driven journalism, where news 
departments compete with each other to offer the least expensive mix 
of news content.  The ultimate question that this study sought to 
answer is whether there was a relationship between the less expensive 
alternative news product and public interest value of the product.
	Because they were a relatively new way of doing local news, these 
alternative news strategies have yet to receive much scholarly 
attention.  Rare as they were, the centralcasts aired in at least 13 
markets across the U.S. while the number of television stations 
contracting with other stations in their market to produce a news 
program for them continues to grow.  This study focused on three 
southern markets where at least one station employed an alternative 
strategy. In one of the markets, TWO stations employed such 
alternative strategies as one aired a centralcast while the news at a 
competing station was produced by another station in the market.

Literature Review
       Stations using the centralcasting alternative news staffing 
strategy were heavily dependent on new technologies to produce their 
programming.  Therefore, literature examining the influence of new 
technology on local news is relevant to this investigation.  Likewise 
are research articles and studies on the quality of local news 
content and the level of consonance (or sameness) in local 
television. Thus the literature review is organized around these 
three themes: new technology, news quality, and consonance.

New Technology
       Two academic studies focused on the promises of television 
news technology for creating more differentiation in news product.  A 
study of more than 1,335 stories from nine Texas television stations 
found consonance, or duplication of stories, was greater in stories 
generated from electronic news gathering (ENG) and network satellite 
news gathering (SNG) (Davie & Lee, 1993).  In other words, the 
satellite or live truck (ENG) technologies encouraged stations to do 
what other stations were doing.  Network SNG stories contributed 
substantially more to consonance than diversity of news stories 
(Davie & Lee, 1993).
	Another study focused on the impact of "imported news" via satellite 
news feeds and other forms of what McManus called "passive" means of 
discovery.  An analysis of 117 newscasts in 24 markets found the 
largest markets devoted a higher percentage of their news hole to 
sensational and human interest news while smaller markets imported 
(via the satellite feed technology) a greater proportion of their 
sensational news than large markets (Carroll & Tuggle, 1997).  Even 
as these academic studies examined the effects of technological 
capabilities on television newscast content, the trade and popular 
press continue to report on new ways technology is changing the way 
local stations do news.
	Among those mentioned in these reports,  Maryland-based Sinclair 
Broadcast Group whose centralcast model was at one time dubbed the 
"poster child for the benefits of I.T.-based news production on the 
station group level."   With the new technology, Sinclair stations 
gathered news video and send it back to a centralized facility via a 
Wide Area Network (WAN) where it was edited and packaged and sent 
back to the stations as finished pieces for their newscast.  Weather 
segments were also produced at the centralized facility and sent via 
the WAN.  Use of the centralized facility to produce what amounts to 
60 percent of news material for its local stations, Sinclair cut its 
news production costs in half (Cashing In On the News, 2003; 
Kerschbaumer, 2003b).  As the practice of automating on-air operation 
through a "hub," where a small pool of employees controls several 
stations at a single location (Luff, 2003), centralcasting was really 
not new.   It was just that up until late 2002, the hub-based 
content-sharing consortiums had not included the local news 
operation.   A year later, at least a half-dozen television stations 
around the country were using the new technology for its 
newscasts.  In an era of shrinking post-9/11 advertising revenue, a 
slowing economy and increased program acquisition costs, local 
television stations or station groups turned to centralcasting to 
help reduce labor expenses (Kerschbaumer, 2003a; Luff, 2003).

News Quality
       One of the most difficult concepts in broadcast news research 
to operationalize is newscast quality.  The assumption, of course, is 
that quality is synonymous with serving the "public service" needs of 
a community. One of the first attempts of this involved the coding of 
content from network owned-and-operated affiliates in the nation's 
largest market, New York City.  News stories were coded as hard news, 
feature stories and human interest.  The study found all the stations 
emphasized news that was violent, stories that were humorous and ones 
that were emotional (Dominick, Wurtzel, & Lometti, 1975).  Another 
study of San Diego local newscasts showed stations spent an average 
of 25 percent of time on "issues" and 13 percent of their time on 
"unexpected events" and 12 percent of time on "entertainment" 
(Wulfemeyer, 1982).  A study of local news on network-affiliated 
stations in Houston showed 46 percent of the time was devoted to 
sensational news coverage while three-quarters of newscast time 
involved stories that provided background and consequences of events, 
issues or problems (Hofstetter & Dozier, 1986). These studies 
succeeded in empirically examining newscast quality in terms of 
journalistic standards1.
	More recently, the Columbia University Graduate School of 
Journalism's Project for Excellence in Journalism (PEJ) conducted a 
five-year study that used empirical data to measure the quality of 
local TV news, which was then compared with ratings (Rosenstiel, 
Gottlieb, & Brady, 1999b).  Among their measure of quality of, as 
they termed it, "what is a good newscast" were topic range, story 
focus, enterprise level, number of sources, viewpoints, source 
expertise and local relevance.  Based on a ranking of quality of 59 
stations in 19 cities, the study found that while serious, proactive 
journalism is less common in local news, enterprise reporting was 
still effective in building viewer loyalty and ratings. The 
top-scoring station in the Evansville, Indiana market did more 
stories on local schools, the environment, and business than its 
competitors and saw its ratings rise. Based on the analysis of 8,000 
stories from 590 newscasts, the PEJ study was the largest 
investigation of local news ever (Rosenstiel, Gottlieb, & Brady, 1999a).
	As a sidebar to the PEJ study, which measured the most popular time 
slot in 19 markets, another article explained local news can be 
different depending on whether it airs in the early evening or the 
late evening.  News directors who participated in the study objected 
to their most popular newscast, which was the late news in many 
markets being judged for quality.  That is because shorter stories, 
breaking news, and stories chosen because of their video appeal are 
more likely to appear in those newscasts, thus making them of lower 
quality than shows where more in-depth pieces aired (Carr, 1999). An 
analysis of both six and 11 p.m. newscasts in the Boston and New York 
City markets proved inconclusive as the market neither rewarded nor 
punished a different style (lower or higher quality) of late news 
(Carr, 1999).
	A third take-away element of research from the PEJ study, which also 
included a survey of television stations' policies, pressures and 
profit margin, was that staff size is the most important ingredient 
in winning viewers (Just, 1999). Out of the 46 news directors who 
returned the PEJ survey, nearly three quarters had added broadcast 
hours in the three years prior to the 1999 study, thus putting a 
greater strain on budgets.  While it was not clear whether those 
added hours were all newscasts, 30 percent of the news managers 
indicated they required reporters to produce more than one story per 
day (Just, 1999).  According to those 46 managers, the lack of 
staffing was cited as the biggest barrier to quality news (Just, 1999).
	The Project for Excellence in Journalism's ground-breaking 1999 
study has been updated in a chapter of the recently released "State 
of the News Media: 2006."   The component of this report that focused 
on local broadcast journalism included a content analysis of 24 
newscasts from 8 stations in three cities (Houston, Milwaukee, and 
Bend, Oregon) on May 11, 2005 showed roughly half of the newshole not 
devoted to weather, traffic and sports was devoted to crime and 
accidents.  Stories about local institutions, infrastructure, 
government and education were only short "anchor reads" in the middle 
of the newscasts (Hitlin et al., 2006).
	Another fairly recent survey of news directors by RTNDA shows 
television news employment at its second highest level ever (Papper, 
2004). At the same time, while television news staffing was just 
short of its all-time high, the amount of television news rose to its 
highest level ever, 3.7 hours per weekday.  The total number of 
stations running news rose from 751 in 2003 to 759 last year (Papper, 2004)

Consonance
       Comprising a third area of local television news research 
relevant for this paper are those studies focused on consonance, or 
the tendency of news outlets to exhibit uniformity in reporting 
(Noelle-Neumann & Mathes, 1987).  An analysis of stories from three 
Midwestern markets found that one of every two local stories 
broadcast was duplicated in each market and more than half of the 
local news time was consumed by duplicated stories (Atwater, 1986). 
Likewise, the same study mentioned earlier for its findings on ENG 
and SNG technologies also found duplication of local stories in the 
Texas markets to be about 50 percent (Davie & Lee, 1993).  Stories 
tended to have a higher degree of duplication depending on upon their 
location and technical source   Stations in the largest of the three 
markets had the highest percentage of unique news items (Davie & Lee, 
1993). While not focused on television news specifically, a study of 
radio programs found duplication of program content is more likely to 
occur the fewer the stations in a market and the smaller the 
disparity between the audience shares of competing stations (Steiner, 
1952).  A later study found new television entrants into a market 
will tend to duplicate their incumbent rivals' programming so long as 
the market share they can command will exceed what they could obtain 
with a new program type (Levin, 1971).
       The previous research in these areas suggests several things 
to look for in analyzing news products of alternative and traditional 
news staffing.  If consonance, or duplication of stories,  was found 
to be greater in stories generated from electronic news gathering 
(ENG) and network satellite news gathering (SNG) (Davie & Lee, 1993), 
one would expect consonance to be higher in national news or 
international news than local news (H1).  Since news directors cited 
the lack of staffing as the biggest barrier to quality news (Just, 
1999) and news quality is characterized by such things as topic range 
and local relevance (Rosenstiel et al., 1999a), it is reasonable to 
expect stories from the fully-staffed traditional news operations to 
cover a wider range of news topics than the products produced by 
staffs of the centralcasts that use a skeleton staff (H2). And, if 
earlier research found new television entrants tended to duplicate 
their incumbent rivals' programming (Levin, 1971), the newer news 
programs developed through alternative staffing strategies would most 
likely duplicate newscast structure and strategies of traditional 
local news programs (H3).    While the literature suggests three 
expectations one would have of the alternative news programs, market 
theory allows one to go even further in examining the market and 
market positions of these newer news products.

       Market Theory
       To apply market theory as McManus (1994) has in his 
ground-breaking work, Market-Driven Journalism, one must place market 
theory on the opposite end of a spectrum where journalism theory and 
market theory are polar extremes.  News operations operating under 
purely market theory treat news like any other commodity used to 
generate profits.  On the other hand, those operating under purely 
journalism theory treat news as a means through which an organization 
serves the public interest.  Money is no object In journalism theory, 
while minimizing expense is a major objective in market 
theory.   Underpinning the market theory is a market structure that 
economists have termed oligopolistic competition, where there are a 
few major competitors and high barriers to entry.
       McManus (1994) suggested one of the solutions to market-driven 
journalism was the notion of change in the public demand for market 
journalism through consumer education.  Along those lines, he offered 
a survey for consumers to rate newscast "nutrition." While not fully 
giving an operational or conceptual definition of newscast nutrition, 
McManus does state the primary purpose of news is to explain how 
one's environment is working so that a person can make good 
decisions, particularly civic decisions.  Thus, a more nutritious 
newscast would aid viewers in fulfilling this purpose.  A less 
nutritious program would be less helpful or not helpful at all in 
fulfilling this purpose.
	High quality news is generally associated with nutrition while lack 
of quality is associated with malnutrition.  One may extend this 
notion to the use of national and international news via technologies 
such as satellite news feed or satellite news gatherings.  In 
addition to consonance, which has already been described in the 
literature, with these broader ideas in mind, McManus' ideas can be 
examined by seeing the news product through at least three dimensions 
of evaluation:  level of discovery, audience appeal, level of 
consonance with other stations and volume of local news.

Level of News Story Discovery
       Market Theory says if a station seeks to maximize profit, the 
newsroom will be organized to allocate greater resources through a 
more passive means of discovery than minimally active or highly 
active discovery.  If a station compromises between market and 
journalistic norm (or journalism theory), the outcome should be 
roughly equal time to all categories of discovery or more airtime in 
the middle category than either of the others. Since the alternative 
newscast strategies were used chiefly to maximize profit, stations 
using these strategies would likely have a higher percentage of 
stories developed through passive means of discovery than 
fully-staffed news operations (H4).

Audience Appeal
       There are two dimensions of appeal of news content.  People 
watch the news for informational reasons—to learn who won an 
election, the level of danger in certain parts of town and for 
reasons of entertainment or emotional reward.  The former McManus 
calls orientation or information that is close to home, affects one's 
job, neighborhood or child's school.  Profit-minded stations would be 
expected to emphasize stories that are high in entertainment, but low 
in orientation.  On the other hand, stations seeking to maximize 
public understanding would choose stories that high in orientation 
and entertainment.  Assuming stories about state and local politics 
or government are high in orientation and low in entertainment, one 
would expect the traditionally-staffed stations that are less 
concerned about maximized profits than covering stories in a 
community to cover more stories related to state and local politics 
or government (H5).

Volume of Local News
	While the dimensions of appeal deal more with what topics are most 
of value to those producing news products, the way stations use their 
local news time is also reflective of the station's 
values.  According to McManus, if airtime devoted to local news is 
considered the most important use of that time, a rough measure of 
that commitment would be the proportion of time devoted to local 
news. In other words, the volume of locally originated content speaks 
to how a station apportions its human resources in order to generate 
a news product.   Based on these ideas, the traditional news stations 
would be expected to have a higher volume of local news than the news 
programs generated by the alternative staffing strategies (H6)
Hypotheses
       The literature review and the market theory suggest a total of 
six hypotheses described above.  Three hypotheses come from previous 
studies while three were formed based on the McManus' market theory 
of news.  Here again are those hypotheses that were tested in this study:
       H1: Consonance will be higher in national news or 
international news than local
       news.
H2: Stories from the fully-staffed traditional news operations cover 
a wider range of news topics than the products produced by staffs of 
the centralcasts.
H3: Newer news programs developed through alternative staffing 
strategies would most likely duplicate newscast structure and 
strategies of traditional local news programs.
H4: Stations using alternative staffing strategies would likely have 
a higher percentage of stories developed through passive means of 
discovery than fully-staffed news operations.
H5: Traditionally-staffed stations that are less concerned about 
maximized profits than covering stories in a community to cover more 
stories related to state and local politics or government.
H6: Traditional news stations would be expected to have a higher 
volume of local news than the news programs generated by the 
alternative staffing strategies.

Traditional and Alternative Local News In Three Markets
        Traditionally local news has been the major element of a 
broadcast station's content that establishes a sense of localism with 
both audiences and advertisers (Albarran, 2002).  Not only do the 
people in the audience identify with the local news personalities, 
but those same people will identify with a definable brand, such as 
"Coverage You Can Count On" or "Eyewitness News."  At the same time, 
as a form of local programming, news carries with it four main 
liabilities: labor intensity, cost intensity, advertising 
considerations, and promotion (Eastman & Ferguson, 2002).
	In the nation's 83rd largest designated market area (DMA), two 
Columbia, South Carolina stations have tried to off-set two of those 
liabilities by using alternative newscast strategies.  In 1996, 
Raycom Media reached an agreement with Liberty Broadcasting, the 
owner of NBC affiliate, WIS-TV, to produce a half-hour newscast for 
Raycom's FOX affiliate, WACH-TV.  Eight years later even as many FOX 
affiliates have hired their own small news staffs, "WACH FOX News at 
10" is still produced by WIS-TV and claims to be among the 
highest-rated newscasts of all FOX affiliates in the country.  Ten 
years after reaching their original agreement, Raycom Media in 
February 2006 completed the purchase of Liberty Broadcasting 
stations, which would mean it now owns both WOLO and WIS.  Since the 
combination of two stations would not permitted under the FCC's 
duopoly rule, Raycom has announced it plans to sell 
WACH-TV.   Meanwhile, instead of abandoning local news for its ABC 
affiliate in Columbia, WOLO-TV, Charlotte-based Bahakel 
Communications in 2002 moved its technical operation from an aging 
analog facility with a digital transmitter in Columbia to new digital 
studios (and transmitter) in Charlotte, which is 90 miles from 
Columbia. In Charlotte, WOLO shares news anchors and technical staff 
with WCCB, while a skeleton WOLO news team remains in 
Columbia.   Videotapes were transmitted to Charlotte via fiber optic 
technology and one reporter continues to do live reports in each 
newscast from the Columbia newsroom.  The Columbia audience is said 
to have been less than enthusiastic with the change as newscast 
ratings in the November 2002 "sweeps" declined (Nye, 2002).  This is 
perhaps what prompted Bahakel in January 2006 to re-brand itself "ABC 
Columbia" and re-launch its newscast from a downtown Columbia studio 
with the South Carolina State Capitol in the background.  The 
traditional news stations are WIS-TV, the perennial market leader and 
WLTX, a Gannett-owned CBS affiliate. It is interesting to note that 
WACH FOX's contracted newscast predates the rather recent news 
investment and development at WLTX making the 10pm show older than 
some of the news programs at traditional news station, WLTX.
	One of the stations featured in the March 2005 edition of RTNDA 
Communicator as a new startup was WBMA-TV in Birmingham, AL, the 
nation's 40th largest market.  Because it actually broadcasts on 
three frequencies in nearby Tuscaloosa, Ala (WCFT-TV40), and 
Anniston, Ala (WJSU-TV33), the station was branded "ABC 33/40."  It 
is one of four traditional news operations.  The others are WVTM-TV, 
an NBC owned-and-operated station and WIAT-TV, a Media General-owned 
CBS affiliate.   WBRC-TV underwent an affiliation switch from ABC to 
FOX in 1995 (creating the room for ABC 33/40).  Prior to the 
affiliation switch, WBRC-TV was one of the top ABC affiliates in the 
country. Since the big switch on September 1, 1996, WBRC had 
maintained its prominence as the leader in TV news in the 39th 
largest market.  Unlike many stations that switched newscasts 
schedules, WBRC chose to continue in the late news race at 10 p.m. 
while adding a half-hour primetime newscast to fit the FOX television 
network schedule.  For first time since the affiliation switch, WBRC 
fell to second place behind WBMA in both November 2004 (Cavender, 
2005) and most recently in the November 2005 sweeps periods.  In 
September 2003 when WTTO-TV officials announced the launch of "WB21 
News at Nine," they said they had a goal of not only making money, 
but also serving the community (Nicholson, 2003).   Owned by Sinclair 
Broadcast Group, WTTO-TV was one of the 12 stations utilizing the 
centralcasting alternative newscast strategy.  Two years later in 
August 2005, Sinclair reduced the one-hour centralcast to a 30-minute 
format. Six weeks later, it reached an agreement with the Media 
General for the CBS affiliate WIAT-TV to produce WTTO's half-hour 
"WB21 News at Nine."  Some 20 employees of the centralcast were left 
to find other jobs (Carlton, 2005).
	For more than 10 years, Richmond, Va. the nation's 60th largest 
designated market area has been dominated by Jefferson-Pilot-owned 
NBC affiliated, WWBT-TV.  Less than five years ago, WWBT-TV was 
contracted by Sinclair Broadcast Group to produce an hour-long 10pm 
news, "FOX 35 News at Ten" to fill the 10 p.m. to 11 p.m. time 
slot.  Like Columbia, FOX 35 News at 10 p.m. is the only primetime 
news in the market.  Besides the FOX-contracted newscast, there are 
traditional newscasts on the CBS affiliate, WTVR-TV, which is owned 
by Raycom Media and WRIC-TV, a Young Broadcasting-owned ABC affiliate.
	The Columbia, Richmond, and Birmingham markets are ideal for this 
study design because they illustrate three different scenarios where 
alternative newscasts are available to consumers.  In Richmond, one 
contracted newscast airs nightly while in Birmingham one centralcast 
has recently become a contracted newscast.  In Columbia, both a 
centralcast and a contracted newscast were (during the time of these 
data were collected) available to viewers.


Methodology	
	While much of the previous research using television newscasts have 
utilized purposive samples such as consecutive-unit sampling (Carroll 
& Tuggle, 1997; Carroll et al., 1997; Davie & Lee, 1993), the focus 
is often on coverage of types of stories or events that necessitated 
that type of reporting.  In this study of a relatively new phenomenon 
of centralcasting and contracted newscasts, giving as many days of 
the week representation in the sample was thought to provide a 
broader view of the new trend or strategy.  A type of stratified 
sample, the constructed week sample, has been found to adequately 
predict the population mean in a newspaper sample (Riffe, Aust, & 
Lacy, 1993).  It is considered appropriate, in particular, for 
populations where newsholes vary somewhat by the day of the 
week.  While studies show that two constructed weeks were more 
effective than one (Riffe et al., 1993), this study was restricted by 
resources from recording 10 days of newscasts.  The logistics of 
gaining complete recordings in three markets on three days hindered a 
full execution of the constructed week sample.
	The result is a convenience sample of nine days of recordings in the 
Birmingham, five days of Columbia, and eight days of recordings in 
the Richmond, Va. market. Based on a decision beforehand among those 
recording newscasts simultaneous recordings were made in Birmingham 
and Columbia on April 29, May 7, May 25 and June 2 of 2004.  Except 
for June 2, These days were randomly selected from four weeks of what 
are traditionally known as "sweeps" periods when audiences are 
measured with diaries and demographic data from those audiences are 
used to set advertising rates.  June 2 was arbitrarily selected as a 
non-sweeps day for the sake of comparison. A fifth day of recordings 
was made in Birmingham on May 5 (during sweeps) and in Columbia on 
May 12 (during sweeps).  All stations' primetime and late evening 
newscasts were recorded.  After Sinclair Broadcast Group converted 
its Birmingham centralcast to a contracted newscast prepared by WIAT 
in October 2005, the first four days of the new news program were 
also recorded on October 3-6, 2005.  Primetime and late evening 
newscasts were also recorded in Richmond, Va., on March 31, April1, 
and April 2 of 2004 and December 23, December 26-29 of 2005.  All 
Richmond recordings were done during non-sweeps periods.
	All newscasts were analyzed by the author for objective categories 
where there was a true code.  In other words, the few codes used were 
either right or wrong.  Stories were timed and assigned a slug as 
well as given a code number. Notation was also made of the story 
presentation format.    In an effort to provide a precise location of 
the story and to examine the extent to which stations went to gather 
news and define "local," a six-category scheme used previously by 
Bernstein & Lacy (1992) in their study on how local TV news caters to 
the marketplace of ideas, was employed.  Stories were either coded as 
occurring within the "Central City of Area Dominant Influence (ADI)" 
or "Central County of ADI" Stories not contained in those two 
categories were coded as either "ADI outside Central County," 
"State," "Regional," "National" or "International."    Definitions of 
counties in the Area of Dominant Influence were taken from the 
2002-2003 Broadcasting and Cable Yearbook. Stories from any of the 
border states to the state in which the news content was analyzed 
were coded as "regional."
   	A consonant story was defined as any item aired on two or more 
newscasts at a particular time during the sample period (Davie & Lee, 
1993).  Stories that were not consonant were assumed to be coded as 
unique. In other words, if fewer than two stations aired the story, 
it was considered unique to that station, a measure of a station's 
independence from norms as exhibited by competitors.  Additionally, a 
station's consonance was defined as the ratio of duplicated stories 
to the total number of stories aired by the station (Atwater, 1986).
	In the second round of coding, two coders, one a former local 
broadcast news producer and the other a journalism graduate student 
coded all stories for the TYPE OF NEWS.  Stories were either breaking 
news, soft news or situational stories.  A situational story focused 
on circumstances that were part of an on-going process or policy 
consideration.  If underlying implications, policy debate, 
examination of issues, controversy over how to resolve the thing or 
history were made a part of the report, it would be 
situational.   Whereas breaking news dealt with the facts of the 
moment, a situational story provided background and 
context.  	Secondly, stories were coded for the TYPE OF EVENT as 
either spontaneous, pre-arranged, anticipated or enterprise. 
Spontaneous stories came with virtually no notice   Pre-arranged 
stories included Press conferences, opening nights, ceremonial 
appearances or other (pseudo) events planned with news media coverage 
in mind  Anticipated events were those  that the news organization 
may schedule but CANNOT control such as court hearings, trial 
decisions and legislative action. Finally, enterprise stories 
resulted from initiative in identifying topics that otherwise would 
not be included in the newscast.  Stories done because the news 
organization judges the items to be important or newsworthy, not 
because news people were reacting to ongoing events.
	This study employed McManus' "nutrition" rating for 12 NEWS TOPICS.  	
	
	1. Crime, police investigation or court action
	2. Accident Fire or disaster
	3. Heart-warming event or people's emotion
	4. Unusual, Unexpected or Ironic
	5. Amusing or Entertaining
	6. Lives of Rich, Famous or Notorious
	7. How Schools Performed
	8. Business/Economic Conditions or Trends
	9. Social Trends
	10. State and local politics or government
	11. "How to" do something practical
	12. Wise purchasing
	13. OTHER topics


Findings

       Contained within the 22 newscasts that were recorded and 
analyzed between 2004 and 2005 were 2,583 news stories.  As Table 1 
shows, of those 2,583 stories, 985 or 38.2 percent  were national and 
international stories while slightly more than half of the stories 
(53.7 percent) were either local or state and 43 stories were from 
states that bordered the state in which the television was located 
(regional).  Of the local stories, the largest number of stories, 
505, in the overall sample was those from the central city.  The next 
largest number was stories from the area of dominant influence 
(ADI).  Finally, there were almost as many stories in the central 
county as in the area of dominant influence (Table 1).
       While the average length of the news stories was 44 seconds, 
the most frequently-occurring format was voiceover, which made up 
nearly half of the sample (46.8 percent).  As Table 2 shows, 
one-fifth of the stories or 20.8 percent, were presented with sound 
bites (vosots). Only about 17 percent of the stories were full-blown, 
self-contained news packages or live reports with packages included.
       The data in this sample provide some support for Hypothesis 1 
in that the level of consonance is higher for national stories (31.5 
percent of all stories) compared to stories in the central city (x2= 
131.17, p< .001).  This was not the case, however, for international 
news stories, which only made up 3.8 percent of consonant 
stories.  It was also not the case when the definition of "local 
news" is expanded to include stories in the central county and 
ADI.  When those stories are added, the consonance level is much 
higher for local news than national news.
       In terms of the news topics covered, the alternative staffing 
strategies yielded about the same percentage of stories (27.8 
percent) on crime, police investigations or court actions as the 
traditional newscasts (30 percent). Both staffing strategies also had 
about the same percentage of stories on state and local politics or 
government, 12 percent.  These were the two highest categories of 
news story nutrition.   At the same time, there was a statistically 
significant relationship between level of consonance and story topic 
(x2= 23.73, p <.05). So while the range of topics was different, the 
differences on the most important topics (i.e. the nutrition vs. 
mal-nutrition) was non-existent.  This suggests a lack of support for 
the second hypothesis.
       The newer centralcasts and contracted newscasts were formatted 
in similar fashion to the traditional newscasts.   The contracted 
newscasts had weather segments at roughly the same point in the news 
program and emphasis local, breaking news in the first 
segments.  National news wrap-ups were presented in later segments of 
the program.  These findings provide support for Hypothesis 3.
       There was also no support for Hypothesis 4, which suggested 
stations with alternative news staffing would pursue stories 
developed through passive means of discovery.  The data show both 
operations – those with alternative staffing and traditional 
newscasts had the same 34 percent of stories from spontaneous events 
and 34 percent of stories from anticipated events.   Likewise, as 
mentioned earlier, the alternative staffing strategies showed no less 
commitment than traditionally-staffed operations to stories related 
to state and local politics or government.  Thus the fifth hypothesis 
was also not supported.
       When it comes to the volume of local news (Hypothesis 6), the 
news programs produced with traditional news station staffing did 
have a significantly higher number of stories from either the central 
city, central county of the ADI.   While only one-third (33.7 
percent) of stories on the alternative newscast were from these 
areas, 44.4 percent of the stories on the traditional newscasts were 
local.   This statistically-significant difference (x2= 52.67, p 
<.01) provides support for Hypothesis 6.  On the flip-side, 43.6 
percent of the stories from the alternative newscasts were national 
stories while only 35.5 of the stories from traditional news staffs 
were local.

Discussion

       When one moves beyond the ratings to look at these alternative 
newscasts, the data here suggest the differences between them and the 
traditional newscasts are minimal.   The analysis of these shows in 
the types of stories, the degree of repetition (i.e. consonance) 
between the other stations in story selection is greatest in national 
news. This is consistent with previous research on the level of 
satellite-generated news content in a news program.  The fact that 
only two hypotheses (H3 and H6) were supported suggests that market 
theory may not be as helpful in examining these alternative 
strategies such as centralcasting and contracted newscasts.
       As far as the centralcasts are concerned, imitation may be the 
name of the game as these newscasts produced from a centralized 
facility provide a similarly-formatted program.  On the other hand, 
when it comes to contracted newscasts, because the content is 
produced by a traditionally-staffed operation, it is logical that one 
might not see a dramatically different news-coverage strategy.  The 
"news share" or partnership agreements reached between station owners 
are, in fact, developed for the purpose of taking advantage of the 
fully-staffed traditional news operation.
       What is, perhaps, most valuable in this study is what it says 
about local broadcast news, in general.  While managers employing 
these alternative staffing strategies were apparently successful in 
producing a newscast that was very much like the 
traditionally-staffed newscast products,  this does not bode well for 
those advocating public interest goals in local news.   Broadcasters 
operate based on the assumption that they're operating in the public 
interest.   Is the public's interest served by having two newscasts 
providing virtually the same product?   Or, is it primarily the 
public interest to have access to the information about products that 
are advertised on these news programs?   In the latter case, both the 
public and the station owner would reap benefits.
       On the other hand, the kind of journalism that McManus (1994) 
was referring to that explained how one's environment is working so 
he or she can make good decisions, particularly civic decisions, is 
not only harder to find, but no more frequent today in the 
traditionally-staffed local newsrooms than in these alternative 
arrangements.  The results in this study are consistent with the data 
in the most recent "State of the News Media 2006" report that found a 
heavy emphasis on crime and accidents (Hitlin et al., 2006).   Such 
stories, McManus (1994) rated as low in nutrition more than a decade ago.
       What's perhaps most troubling is as the number of news share 
agreements increase with managers deciding to let their competitors 
make the local news programming for them, if those managers are not 
providing much of the public information or the stories that promote 
civic knowledge that McManus rated as nutritious, where might 
citizens get that information?  The line between the 
traditionally-staffed news operations and these alternative 
arrangements has apparently become very thin.  It is no wonder 
companies operating from a "market-driven" journalism perspective 
have turned to news share agreements as a viable alternative to the 
costs of staffing, equipment and production.
       While some might celebrate the end of centralcasting as a 
victory in their ongoing argument that local news requires people to 
be in their local communities, the data from this study would suggest 
a serious question has to be asked about what these stations that are 
local are really doing?  If the quality of they're producing in terms 
of local information that citizens need (beyond weather and sports) 
is low, do these operations really make that much of difference?
       This postmortem is only a first step in examining alternative 
newscast strategies. Rather than focusing on centralcasting, future 
research should address what is lost in a market where news share 
agreements are in operation and the number of stations doing local 
news decreases.   This is especially important as stations form 
duopolies where one company is allowed to own two stations and one 
staff produces news programming for both outlets.  The true 
consequences of both news share agreements and duopolies on the 
number of "local voices" has yet to be explored. Perhaps that is the 
focus for the next research study in this area.



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Table 1 Stories Broadcast By Geographic Location

Central City of ADI
505 (19.6)
Central County of ADI
270 (10.5)
ADI Outside Central County
281 (10.9)
State
329 (12.8)
Regional (Border States)
43 (1.7)
National
985 (38.2)
International
165 (6.4)
Undetermined
5
Total
2583

Table 2 Stories Broadcast By Story Format

reader
138 (5.3)
voice-over
1210 (46.6)
voice-over/sound
536 (20.8)
sound-on-tape with vo/sot only
42 (1.6)
pkg
366 (14.2)
live voice-over/voice-sound
7 (0.3)
live pkg
90 (3.5)
graphic
187 (7.2)
Straight Live (no tape)
7 (0.3)
Total
2583




1 It is worth noting that besides traditional journalism values (i.e. 
sources, balance, background), news broadcast quality has also been 
examined in terms of viewer needs and desires (Lind, 1995) and level 
of sensationalism in presentation of content and form (Grabe, Zhou, & 
Barnett, 2001). 

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