Thursday, January 6, 2011

Changing face of local TV news

 Published in the Jan. 6, 2011 edition of the Post Register.

Over the span of a few short weeks, the face of TV news in eastern Idaho has changed beyond recognition, both literally and figuratively.

On the same week that a deal in which KIFI essentially took over everything but the most basic technical tasks at KIDK (including news coverage) in a shared-services arrangement, KPVI announced a massive downsizing in its news staff that will include the loss of weekend newscasts and the departure of longtime anchor Brenda Baumgartner. KPVI is owned by Intermountain West Communication Co., formerly known as Sunbelt Communications, based in Las Vegas.

These are just the latest and most obvious signs of both the effects of the national recession and the changing economics of the media.

"The Idaho arrangement is not unusual," wrote reporter Diana Marszalak on of the KIFI-KIDK agreement. "The combination of network affiliates within markets and the resultant loss of independent local news operations are becoming increasingly common as weaker stations give up their independence in the face of dwindling revenue and rising costs."

KIFI was formerly owned by the Post Co., the Post Register's parent company owned by the Brady family and employees. It was sold to the News-Press & Gazette Co., based in Missouri, in 2005. KIDK is owned by Seattle-based Fisher Communication.

The Idaho Falls-Pocatello television market ranks 162nd in size in the country, right between Sherman-Ada, Okla., and Biloxi-Gulfport, Miss. It's long been a struggle for three network affiliates to survive in eastern Idaho. In her story Tuesday about the KPVI downsizing, Marszalak wrote that eastern Idaho is "long known for being one of the smallest markets able to sustain three robust news-producing affiliates."

That, of course, is no longer the case.

Downsizing isn't exactly unique to TV, of course. The Post Register employs 10 fewer people in its newsroom today than it did five years ago and dropped its Monday print edition two years ago. More changes are inevitable.

The recession, coupled with technological advances, has changed traditional media forever. The difficulties faced by newspapers seem to have been well documented, but the trauma in TV may be even more dramatic, and the changes are far from over. Everyone from Google to Microsoft wants to get in on the business of providing TV programming.

The loss of an independent KIDK and the layoffs at KPVI will mean less local TV news, and what's left will be coming from two sources instead of three. "Although KIFI will produce KIDK-branded newscasts for KIDK, there are going to be fewer of them and they will air at times that don't compete with KIFI newscasts, according to a KIDK employee who made the cut," reporter Marszalak wrote last week.

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