Is Pooling of News Resources Bad Or Good News for PR?

It started in January in Philadelphia when Fox launched the Local News Service, an opportunity for local news organizations to pool camera resources to cover locally scheduled news events like press conferences, parades, street festivals, etc..  The Local News Service concept has since expanded to Chicago, Dallas-Ft. Worth, Detroit, Tampa-St. Pete, New York and Washington D.C.

The Local News Service is a direct result of dwindling advertising revenue for local affiliate news networks that has caused severe budget cutbacks necessitating layoffs of photographers and other news resources.

A couple of weeks ago I lamented in this blog the problems dealing with what I termed, “Assignment Desk Hell, ”  and the frustration of trying to get a network affiliate news camera to cover a local event. 

Could a Local News Service make planning a publicity event easier?  I think there are definitely pros and cons to this.  If you are scheduling a press conference then the normal procedure of getting it listed on the AP Daybook and sending the advisory out to the local news assignment desks would still apply.  However, the key would be reaching the assignment desk planner that is in charge of the pool crew for that given day. If the camera shows up, then you have a chance at having footage of your event placed on those affiliates that are part of the Local News Service in your market.

However, what this does is lesson the overall impact of your event, since you will only have sound bites and b-roll airing through this feed, with local anchors most likely voicing over commentary on the event.  What will be missing is having a television reporter present to do their own one-on-one interview, give perspective and make decisions on what other individuals they want to speak to regarding the news generated by the event.

Should the pool camera get tied up elsewhere, then you run the risk of losing any potential broadcast coverage from your event.  While this potential problem exists presently in the “hell” that is trying to get a crew assigment, it still takes control away for the most part, from local news producers and places it in the hands of one general assignment planner.  In a way, I feel this dilutes the overall news product.  I also feel it eliminates the overall identity of the individual news organizations.

Let’s face it, if every local news affiliate has the same shot and overall piece, what is the reason for turning the channel to one network over the other?  Basically, you can choose a network at random and see the same thing that is on all the other affiliates.

Paul Farhi, staff writer for the Washington Post commented extensively on this subject in a recent online chat:

Where’s this heading? Nowhere good, I’d say. A few marginal stations around the country have already abandoned local news, and more will. The creation of the Local News Service presupposes another possibility: the “simulcasting” of the same news by two former rivals. Someday, in other words, four competing broadcasts may become three, or two, or even one.

Not sure Paddy Chayefsky envisioned that prospect when he was writing “Network” way back when.

Can Local News pooling help PR coverage? In the short term, it may help, but I feel in the long term, it’s another blow to media relations. 

Tom Cosentino

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