The Death Of Local TV News

There's a blunt bumper stickers that says: "Kill your television."

Don't bother. Television is busy killing itself. It's said that you can't commit suicide by strangling yourself, yet that's exactly how the television industry -- now in the hands of massive conglomerates like Viacom and GE -- is killing off its news divisions and local stations. The conglomerates, always trying to crank up their profits and stock prices to absurd levels, constantly are squeezing the budgets, shrinking the staff, and consolidating their operations until there's no news left on their "news" broadcasts and no locals left in their "local" programming.

The latest advance in this strangulation process comes from CBS, which has just applied a brand new choke-hold to its own local station in my town of Austin, Texas. Viacom, the global conglomerate that owns CBS, recently whacked the station, called K-EYE, by eliminating its programming and business departments. Gone are K-EYE's general manager and program manager.

Oh, tut-tut, say the corporate brass, we still have a GM and a PM ... it's just that they're no longer based in Austin. Or in Texas. Now, the programming and business decisions for Austin's "local" CBS station are being made 1,000 miles away by managers in Tampa, Florida.

I'm sure the general manager there is highly qualified, but what he knows about the people, culture, business, and news of our city is diddlysquat. Local television news is not a one-size-fits-all widget-making business. It's job is to provide information and insight about our unique community. Our new Tampa overseer, however, seems oblivious to such concerns, instead taking the corporate perspective: "It's just a better way to do business," he declared, "and it's probably the wave of the future."

This is Jim Hightower saying ... When we let business rule news, the conglomerates profit, but our democracy shrivels. Local TV's responsibility ought not be to a handful of absent executives and Wall Street investors, but to our communities.

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