Outsourcing The Local News

Two things I really like to follow is media and local gossip, so naturally I’m pretty interested in the inside baseball talk when it comes to local news.  In particular, the local TV North Alabama news really interest me in that it seems to be the way that most locals get their news and information.  Traditional print and online media seem to have a presence in certain demographics, but aren’t as widespread and deep rooted in the area as the evening network affiliate newscasts.

One bit of trivia that has always interested me and disgusted me at the same time is what WZDX, the local Fox affiliate does with their news.  They don’t exactly try to promote this fact, but their 9:00pm evening newscast isn’t even produced within the state of Alabama.  It’s instead produced in a studio in Iowa.  Aside from two local reporters, everything you see on their news is done hundreds of miles away from the area it reports on.  Essentially rendering their news lifeless and devoid of any contextual relevance.

I always used that fact as the butt of a joke when it came to WZDX, but lately I’m wondering if the news really is “local” to begin with.  In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll note that I have a number of friends who work both in front of and behind the camera at WHNT, our local CBS affiliate.  Even after cleansing myself of any bias, I do generally think they do the best job of covering the area in a manner that understands it best.  However, that being the case, I’m a bit disappointed in a few moves they’ve made lately.

First, they hired two new sports anchors in the wake of parting ways with the guy who previously had this watch.  A call that many of WHNT’s viewership didn’t agree with.  Out of respect for all involved, I won’t get into names or specifics.  But it was my understanding that the management of the station and the previous sports anchor had a number of disagreements and mutually decided to end their relationship.  Which happens in any line of work, and is totally understandable.

However, the new sports anchors hired weren’t from anywhere near our market. While it’s true that many jobs require relocation, this is a separate story altogether.  Given the insane obsession with college football of nearly everyone in the state of Alabama, it’s simply impossible for someone devoid of that context to even remotely understand that obsession.  Without exaggeration or hyperbole, it is absolutely true that the rivalry between Alabama and Auburn is one that splits families and defines virtually every resident of the state of Alabama.  In fact, it’s more than just a rivalry, and it’s going to take well more than just a few months for someone previously regulated to Las Vegas to truly understand that.

Hiring outside of your market isn’t always going to be that big of a deal.  But for a viewer to develop a relationship and a trust with a purveyor of media, it’s going to take a sense of familiarity.  WHNT has Jerry Hayes, who is sort of North Alabama’s own Ron Burgundy.  Except keep the epic mustache and take away the on-air inappropriateness.  Mr. Hayes is kind of a legend in how he’s genuine on the air and apparently will report on North Alabama until the End of Days.  His trust and familiarity has been earned over two decades, something that won’t happen for WHNT’s new sports anchors in just a few months prior to the Iron Bowl.

In short, I don’t expect their experiment to last too long.

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