What’s wrong with local TV news? Health care news may be worst.

Former CBS and CNN journalist Deborah Potter writes on her NewsLab site:

“Let’s start with the syndicated stories TV networks pump out to their affiliates, a service they’ve provided for decades. One of my first jobs in television many years ago was to log the video offerings from ABC on the cutely named DEF or “daily electronic feed.” What’s different now is that so many more stations both receive and use the stories from such feeds.

The big four broadcast networks, ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC, have around 200 affiliates each, but they’re pikers compared to CNN’s Newsource, which goes out to more than 800 stations across the country. That wide distribution practically guarantees a story will get decent play. The Newsource story about e-mail aired on at least 225 stations, according to Matthew Koll, chairman of the software company that was featured.

Like the networks, CNN makes it easy for local stations to run these stories by providing scripted introductions for local anchors to read. And read them they do, even when they don’t make much sense.

Back in the day, fluffy features from the networks usually made air only when a local story ran late or fell through. Today, syndicated fodder is a necessity rather than a fallback, given the huge amount of news time stations now have to fill.

The average TV station produces about five-and-a-half hours of news each weekday, according to the most recent Hofstra/RTDNA survey of news directors. That’s an increase of almost an hour since 2008. Even as the economy tanked that year and stations cut their payrolls, they added more news time. While staffing has recovered, salaries have not. Average pay at local TV stations increased just 2 percent in 2011, failing to even keep up with inflation. “That’s likely the result of stations adding people who are mostly entry level–or at least paid at a noticeably lower rate than existing staff,” says Hofstra University’s Bob Papper.

Small wonder, then, that many stations literally rip and read the scripts that accompany the network feeds. Who has the time or experience to rewrite anchor introductions, much less produce original stories to fill all those newscasts?”

The problem, I submit, is particularly acute in local TV health care news.  Here are some of my past posts on the topic:

Believe me, sadly there are more examples, but I think you get the picture by now.


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