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If you want to know even more about changing times in the local TV news world, here are some quick questions and answers.
Why does it matter if the evening weatherman on NBC 7/39 (a voiceofsandiego.org partner) is actually in the studio?
If L.A. weatherman Fritz Coleman pronounces local place names correctly (I’m looking at you, Jamul) and doesn’t screw up the county’s geography, viewers might not notice any difference.
(Not knowing the lay of the land is an occupational hazard for out-of- towners who appear on the local airwaves. Of course, weather anchors who have been here forever might not know where Rainbow or Jacumba are either.)
But will viewers be misled into thinking Coleman’s here when he’s not?
As NBC 7/39 news director Greg Dawson told me, the station doesn’t try to make viewers think Coleman is actually in the studio when he’s up north. In fact, Dawson said he declined to project a San Diego backdrop behind Coleman so viewers wouldn’t be misled.
But NBC 7/39 also doesn’t go out of its way to let viewers know Coleman isn’t here.
Rebecca Coates-Nee, a former TV reporter who now works as a lecturer at San Diego State University, said the station risks losing credibility with viewers. “It’s sort of misleading by omission,” she said.
If it’s cash-strapped, she said, NBC 7/39 should simply let its news anchors report the weather. Or, she said, they could say something like “Fritz, was the weather just as hot in L.A. today as it was here in San Diego?”
Aren’t plenty of news organizations doing more to “outsource” their news coverage?
Yes. An L.A. sister station is now providing local news coverage during part of the day to news/talk radio station KOGO, also a voiceofsandiego.org partner.
Newspapers are also developing new partnerships in order to share the costs of news coverage.
Will cash-strapped TV stations start bending over backwards to meet the needs of advertisers?
Some people in the local TV industry fear this will happen — or that it’s already happening.
It’s true that advertisers appear to be sponsoring more segments of local news shows, such as the weather or sports. And at least one station puts an advertiser’s logo on the screen during newscasts.
The problem is that the standard 30-second commercial doesn’t work for advertisers anymore, said Michael Castengera, manager of WNEG-GV, a university-owned commercial station in Athens, Ga. For one thing, digital recorders make skipping through the advertisements a breeze.
“Everybody wants to figure out a new place to draw the line between news and non-news content,” he said. “You have offer sponsorships and better deals — ‘We’ll have you as sponsor of a segment or something like that.’ I’m doing much more of that kind of stuff.”
Of course, this sort of thing is anything but unusual in the world of newspapers and magazines. News stories are printed right next to advertisements, and no one complains. And many newspapers now routinely place ads on their front pages, a practice that was once verboten but has become routine.
The same goes on the internet, where news stories appear on webpages next to ads.
In the world of TV news, however, some journalists have been accustomed to keeping a strict wall between news and advertising, which was once relegated to commercial breaks. In the past, some stations even forbade advertising staff members from even setting foot in newsrooms.
“The big question is whether the viewer associates the content with the advertisers,” said Jeff Wald, former news director of L.A. news station KTLA-TV.
In the big picture, Wald said, “the advertising model as we knew it is broken,” and changes in standards may be inevitable and, perhaps, even acceptable.
“Part of me says if that’s the only way you’re going to be able to fund our news broadcasts, then so be it,” he said.
You’ve quoted a few critics of TV news cutbacks. What do they think stations should cut instead to make ends meet?
Doug Curlee, a retired TV journalist who criticized the use of VJs in my earlier story, said via e-mail that stations should cut high anchor salaries and trim middle management.
Coates-Nee, the San Diego State lecturer, didn’t offer specific suggestions about cost-cutting but said stations should focus on journalistic ethics.
“Those news organizations that are able to embrace the spirit of the web — where the audience is included, respected and treated not as a subject, but as part of the news gathering process, will be those that ultimately survive — regardless of the medium,” she said via e-mail.