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Shrinking the news… and our democracy

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POSTED June 21, 2012 7:49 p.m.

What’s the No. 1 source of news for most Americans? The internet, you say? Nyet. The New York Times or Wall Street Journal? Uh-uh. Some fear that it’s Fox TV, the shameless spewer of right-wing hokum. But, no, not even close.

The reality is even scarier than Fox. Get ready to shudder, for America’s top news source is: your local television stations. Yes, the daily purveyors of car wrecks and features on the season’s biggest zucchini are the media outlets keeping the masses informed on the issues of the day. Should we laugh, fall down sobbing, or just go bowling?

In fairness, some local stations do a cracker-jack job, but few even meet a functioning democracy’s minimum daily requirement for “news to use” – chiefly because they’re nearly all owned by corporate chains that constantly cut reporters and editors and shy away from aggressive reporting, especially any reporting on major advertisers.

Now, though, another corporate contagion is spreading throughout TV-land, further shriveling the ability (or even the desire) of local stations to fulfill their news reporting duty to the public. Call it “cookie-cutter” news. Rather than competing to dig up the best stories, two or more stations in a city have been quietly signing “shared services agreements,” meaning they share one news director, video reports, local interviews, graphics, office space, and even the scripts read by their news anchors. Except for different network logos on the screen, the broadcasts are basically the same, often word for word.

At least 83 TV markets, from Vermont to Hawaii, now have stations engaged in this anti-competitive collusion, abrogating their responsibility to use our airwaves for the public good. For more information and action, go to the watchdog group FreePress at www.freepress.net.

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