By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Ed Ansin and the FCC

Did Ed Ansin’s dog eat the FCC study?

At the same time that Ansin, the Miami-based owner of WHDH-TV (Channel 7), was adding WLVI-TV (Channel 56) to his portfolio (Globe coverage here; Herald coverage here), we were learning that former FCC chairman Michael Powell had ordered a draft report on the negative effects of media concentration destroyed.

Well, here’s one negative effect: About 120 people are expected to lose their jobs as a result of Channel 56 becoming a wholly owned subsidiary of Channel 7.

News accounts of the FCC study suggest that there is an apples-and-oranges quality in attempting to apply the study’s findings to the looming 7/56 duopoly. Take, for instance, this paragraph from the Associated Press story:

The analysis showed local ownership of television stations adds almost five and one-half minutes of total news to broadcasts and more than three minutes of “on-location” news. The conclusion is at odds with FCC arguments made when it voted in 2003 to increase the number of television stations a company could own in a single market. It was part of a broader decision liberalizing ownership rules.

The problem is that local ownership and media concentration are not exactly the same thing. Ansin’s Sunbeam Broadcasting is a far smaller operation than Tribune Co., the current owner of Channel 56. In that sense, Sunbeam is closer to being a “local” (in the sense of being close to the ground and engaged) owner than Tribune. Moreover, Ansin, since taking over Channel 7 some years back, has made a huge commitment to news, although you can certainly question (as I do) his commitment to quality.

In terms of media concentration, though, Channels 7 and 56 will soon have one owner instead of two. CBS already owns Channels 4 and 38. How long before Hearst-Argyle finds a UHF playmate for WCVB-TV (Channel 5)?

It’s true that the local television news market isn’t what it used to be. In a larger economic sense, I suppose it makes sense for Channel 7 to spread its newsgathering resources over two channels. But 56’s “The Ten O’Clock News” has a flavor of its own, less frantic than its 10 p.m. competition on Fox’s WFXT-TV (Channel 25). Soon, 25 and 56 will presumably compete to see who can most effectively keep viewers in a frenzy.

Timothy Karr of Free Press has posted a copy of the draft study on the Stop Big Media blog, and writes:

The report was an inconvenience to Michael Powell, who, throughout his tenure at the FCC, aided efforts by large media companies to further consolidate their power over local news outlets.

Had it seen the light of day, the FCC and their Big Media allies could no longer deny that locally owned media do a better job of covering local news.

The Boston TV market isn’t going to become any less local — but it is about to get more concentrated and less diverse. That’s bad news you’re not likely to see on 7 or 56.

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  1. Anonymous

    While I’m no fan of Michael Powell, it seems as if you are applying old school thinking to a new school world. The existence of NECN alone blows away anything that was done in terms of local news back in the days of 2,4,5,7, 38 and 56. With the internet and cable, does it really matter what the traditional stations are doing or who owns them?

  2. Lynne

    I have a solution for TV news media concentration…I’ve stopped watching them entirely. Oh, and I don’t watch most of CNN or MSNBC either (or FOX, but that’s a given) because other media outlets keep me far more informed than they do. When you’re watching TV news and you actually know more detail about the given issue than the empty talking head does (or else your brain cells are slowly dying from yet another kidnapped-blonde-girl story), you realize there’s better uses of your downtime than TV news.That said, I agree whole-heartedly – it’s a bad idea for so many stations to be owned by the same person. How is that good competition?? (The same people who say this is a good thing are also subscribers to the “free markets good, competition good” model…they inherently contradict half the time, but they apparently don’t see that.)

  3. Jennie Coughlin

    Dan, what are your thoughts on newspaper consolidation? As a former CNC-er, I’ve been watching (from Virginia) as more and more of the local papers get sucked up into one massive conglomerate. How do you think that threat compares to what’s going on with the TV stations? And if you were ranking them from best to worst, where does a single owner of both a TV station and a newspaper fit in?

  4. Anonymous

    In response to “anonymous”: I think it does matter who owns local news. Sure, as Lynne points out, most of us who follow Media Nation are savvy and connected enough not to need local news for our information.But you have to look at the effect of these changes upon the broader populace, with its full range of socioeconomic and sociocultural variation. Poor people, and people who are not savvy enough to know as a matter of common sense that local news is inferior to paper or electronic sources.These people have as much of a right to quality reporting (that examines multiple perspectives) as everyone else.- A Reader in Chicago

  5. Anonymous

    Sunbeam will require about 30 staffers to provide the additional resources needed to operate 56, and some of them will come from the ranks of WLVI; Karen Marinella, for one, is safe. The majority of the expected job losses at WLVI are administrative and operational personnel, not in the news department. Hearst-Argyle is unlikely to add a second station to its holdings in Boston, as the pickings are pretty slim with 56 off the market. And where’s the criticism of Tribune for folding its cards in Boston? They bear at least as much responsibility for what is about to happen as Ed Ansin.

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