Consolidation and news content: how media ownership policy impacts local television news



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In 1999, the Federal Communications Commission changed the Local Television Ownership Rule, allowing a single company to own two television stations in the same media market. This longitudinal case study analyzed the newscasts of one of the nation's first so-called duopolies. The author sought to discover what kind of long-term impact ownership consolidation had on newscasts in Jacksonville, Florida. Using a quasiexperimental research design, she first compared the newscast content of two stations when they were separately-owned. After consolidation, content produced by the duopoly was compared with pre-consolidation newscasts. 60 newscasts and 1,048 stories were analyzed. The researcher set out to answer the question: Do the combined resources of two television stations translate into higher quality local coverage? Results were mixed. The author empirically measured diversity and localism – two factors critical in the examination of broadcasting in the public interest. Diversity was operationally defined as range of topics, topic of "lead" stories, and range of voices. Results show the duopoly significantly increased its coverage of local government, politics, construction and growth but decreased its coverage of public safety and non-dominant groups. A shift away from crime coverage was seen for lead stories. There was no significant increase in the number of local sources, women, or minorities included in news coverage. Localism was operationally defined as the amount of locally-produced news, the geographic diversity of coverage within the Designated Market Area, the number of reporters featured, and the amount of enterprise reporting. Results show the number of stories and time dedicated to local news increased significantly. Regarding geographic diversity, however, the new duopoly owners did not maintain a commitment to coverage of South Georgia news – a commitment made by the competing station before it was absorbed in the duopoly process. Allocation of reporters to news coverage did not increase. While the number of enterprise stories decreased, the amount of time dedicated to enterprise stories increased – a finding which has methodological implications for future researchers. Results indicate that economies of scale achieved through local television consolidation may translate to higher quality coverage in some content areas but not others. Implications for policy-makers are examined.