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March 30, 2009

Report: Unemployed Newspaper Journalists Camp Out At Public TV Stations

Where else should they go? This story is about laid off reporters in St. Louis and Seattle landing at local PBS affiliates.

In St. Louis, 14 former newspaper reporters now work at desks at public TV station KETC. A similar relationship is just getting under way at KCTS-TV in Seattle, with [20] reporters moving in just last week.

The story explains that

Though future business models and financial relationships remain undefined, pubcasters and newspaper journalists are finding that their missions mesh nicely. Both work to keep the community informed and involved in public affairs. Both value their roles in educating viewers and readers. Both are passionate about those goals and have high standards.

In Seattle, the reporters are refugees from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, which closed a few weeks ago after almost 150 years in publication. They're thinking about launching a new online publication (one of two groups of former P-Iers working on new online projects).

So how will the print reporters work with the TV stations?

So far, in both Seattle and St. Louis, ex-print journalists serve as unpaid news advisors to the stations, as well as providing contextual reporting and analysis on projects with station staffers.

I don't know about the situation in St. Louis, but in Seattle this collaboration represents a real shift in direction for the the public TV station. KCTS has offered very little local programming for years, and aside from a couple of weekly public affairs program, has not waded into local news. I've always found this baffling. Local commercial broadcast news shows long ago degenerated into voyeuristic collages of missing children, fires and bad-weather alarmism. If public broadcasting was meant to serve as an alternative to commercial TV, local news is an obvious place for it. By contrast, many local public radio stations provide alternatives to commercial radio news.


For years now, KCTS has mostly only been interested in projects that come through the door funded. So its menu of in-house-produced shows is an odd mix more driven by funders than in a vision of what public TV could be. The station has been largely AWOL when it comes to local news programming.

So what's missing from this story? The Seattle project is conceived as a website. And "the P-I reporters, KCTS and pubradio station KPLU are talking about combining their coverage online." The KCTS president envisions "a dynamite, in-depth, integrated multimedia website" with contributions from three newsrooms.

Three newsrooms? So far I'm counting two. What, actually, is KCTS contributing, other than office space and a T1? What broadcast news initiatives does the station envision? For years KCTS has been just a little bit better than a local re-transmitter for national programs (while producing some minor national programs itself) and largely absent from the local scene. In a market with a healthy cultural scene, aside from (very) occasional broadcasts, local culture has largely been missing on KCTS. By contrast, the city-owned Seattle Channel, run by former KCTSer Gary Gibson, offers hours of arts programming each week, and produces the city's best political chat show. 

But maybe the opportunity to acquire the print reporters for little if any cost will inspire KCTS to consider becoming a true broadcast alternative and start competing in local news.

March 30, 2009 2:52 PM | | Comments (0)

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