FCC Taking on Shared Services Agreements
FCC Chairman Thomas Wheeler today came out against further consolidation in the broadcast industry and made it clear he would like to cut back on the so-called “shared services” agreements or “SSA’s”. SSA’s allow a station owned by one company to provide news for a competing company in the same market. (http://www.fcc.gov/blog/protecting-television-consumers-protecting-competition)
In his statement Chairman Wheeler said, “…motivated by evidence that our rules protecting competition, diversity and localism have been circumvented, we will consider some changes to other Commission Rules to enforce existing rules.”
I could not agree more. This will no doubt be applauded by those journalists who were laid off when their newsroom shut down so the news could be provided by the competition. I know at least a half-dozen people this happened to. Sometimes they get hired by the new station, sometimes they must move for a new opportunity and sometimes they remain unemployed for a length of time. There are many more people who have been affected but they won’t talk about it publicly because they could get in trouble, especially if they currently work in the industry.
When there are fewer newsrooms, jobs are cut, normally leaving fewer opportunities for all journalists to find work. Viewers for the different stations get the same news delivered by the same people, limiting the opportunity to hear different viewpoints. For those who work in these newly “shared” newsrooms, there is more work and less time for in-depth or investigative reporting.
There are also fewer management jobs, leading to less diversity among those who make decisions on news coverage and hiring.
Research has shown that the demographics of newsroom management trails way behind that of the country. The National Association of Black Journalists Association 2012 Television Newsroom Management Diversity census found that, while people of color represented approximately 35% of the nation’s population, that figure for television station newsroom managers was 12%.
The FCC has not stopped the practice of Shared Services Agreements because there may be limited cases where these agreements make sense. But, given the number of journalists who have been displaced by them, I’m glad to see the FCC take a closer look at how the SSA’s are being used.