The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

4 January 2004

And now, the news from Cockeysville

Sinclair Broadcast Group's News Central concept has been controversial from the beginning; in fact, last summer Sinclair's VP/General Counsel Barry Faber found himself defending the operation [requires Adobe Reader] before the presumably-skeptical Senate Commerce Committee.

Well, I'd like to think I'm at least as skeptical as a Senator, so I figured the least I could do was to check out a News Central broadcast, which I did last night at 9 pm on Sinclair's KOKH-TV, the Fox affiliate in Oklahoma City.

My most immediate reaction, actually, was marveling at the ingenuity of it all: the KOKH-TV news set is essentially identical to Sinclair's News Central set in Baltimore County, Maryland, and although you never see the local anchor and the News Central anchor sitting together trading quips — given the amount of this that goes on at other local stations, I'm inclined to think this is an improvement — it's never blatantly obvious that the newscast is pasted together from separate segments. (Take away 16 minutes from the hour for commercials, and the balance between national and local segments seems to be split about 3-2.)

I have some concerns, most about weather: for instance, is the guy from AccuWeather, which provides the lion's share of News Central weather reportage, going to know about sudden storms out here in Tornado Alley fast enough to issue the appropriate warnings? Then again, none of the three big radio groups in town have any weather facilities of their own — they rely on the local TV stations to provide their forecasts and updates — so I have to assume that News Central has given the matter some thought, and next time we have spectacularly crappy weather (right now, it's merely cold), I will check.

Then there's The Point, the commentary by Sinclair's VP/corporate relations Mark Hyman. Hyman leans decidedly right, which doesn't bother me; however, he has that patented Fox News snarkier-than-thou smirk, which does. (Note to television executives: If you're gonna rip off the Fox News Channel, rip off its most appealing feature: news babes in outfits that seem scantier than they really are.) I'm not sure how well this will play in markets less conservative than Oklahoma City, which is, well, almost all of them.

Local news, as the estimable Laurence Simon reminds us, is intended as a profit center; any public-service considerations are secondary. Obviously Sinclair hopes to make its local newscasts profitable, and this is the path they've chosen. People with impeccable journalistic credentials will look at it and recoil in horror: "They've taken away the local angle!" I'm not so sure. If the "local angle" demands that three minutes be spent on interviewing the neighbor of someone who was shot by the cops — which happened last night on some other station — I'm happy to see it taken away.

Posted at 1:41 PM to Dyssynergy

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