Such off-the-shelf material makes sense when local TV news staffs are shrinking and the time that stations devote to newscasts is expanding, says Bill Lord, general manager of WJLA-TV in Washington.
"It's an economic thing, but it's a good solution," says Lord, whose cable channel often runs affiliate news stories from ABC. "Every news director prefers to produce local stories, but the economics of this industry have changed, so that's not possible."
But the increasing use of such prepackaged news undermines "localism," or community-based reporting, the Federal Communications Commission said last year in a wide-ranging report on the news media.
The FCC report focused in part on local news "outsourcing," a variation on news affiliate services. Outsourcing companies take footage shot by a station and other basic local information, mix in generic national material and assemble it into a finished newscast that is hosted by anchors and weather foreceasters employed by the outsourcer. It then sends the finished newscast back to the station, which airs it as if it produced the program itself.
An Iowa-based news outsourcer, Stratus Content Partners, produces daily newscasts for nine stations around the country this way. "It's really Central Casting efficiency," says Stratus President Marc Jaromin. He estimates that stations save 80 percent of the cost of producing a traditional all-local newscast themselves.
Conan, take note.