Wednesday, April 23, 2008

TV news stations try cooperation

NBC10 and Fox29 will, for a week, experiment with sharing video footage.

In an unusual experiment among network-owned local news stations, WCAU (NBC10) and WTXF (Fox29) are sharing some video footage this week.

The arrangement, acknowledging the economics facing media as well as the redundancies in some coverage, is a test to "see if we can cooperate on some newsgathering in the field," according to a memo circulated Monday to NBC10 staff by news director Chris Blackman.

The cooperation, which both stations will assess at the end of a week, extends to events such as news conferences and other planned events that both stations would cover anyway, Blackman said in his memo, adding that "helicopter resources" also would be shared.

An NBC10 spokeswoman said Blackman and general manager Dennis Bianchi were unavailable for comment.

"The last thing we want to do is reduce competition," Fox29 general manager Mike Renda said in a phone interview, adding that sharing non-breaking video would have a "viewer benefit" because it would allow each station to devote more resources to enterprise coverage.

"It's not unlike the pool arrangements that already exist at the network level," Blackman said in his memo.

In the most recent Nielsen ratings, both Fox29 and NBC10 were ranked behind 6ABC and CBS3.

Renda said the idea of cooperation stemmed from a story last month about a man who had stopped his vehicle on the Walt Whitman Bridge. "There were four helicopters up there, and they caused a safety issue," said Renda. This led to discussions between Renda and Bianchi.

Renda yesterday said that Fox29 gave NBC10 video of a fire in Juniata Park on Monday.

If a deal can be reached to make the experiment permanent, some technical issues have to be worked out, Renda said. Fox29, for example, broadcasts locally in high definition or HD; NBC10 does not yet. It also was not clear how the arrangement would affect WPHL (Channel 17), Tribune Broadcasting's outlet known as MyPHL, which gets its news from NBC10.

Paul Gluck, who spent nearly 30 years as a TV news executive in Philadelphia, said he did not think the viewer would lose from such a video-sharing arrangement.

Gluck said the arrangement - which he likened to some "pooling" at noncompetitive events by networks - appears to be "not so much of a news cooperative but a newsgathering cooperative."

"If these organizations are covering broad and general news, fine," said Gluck, executive director of the Rudman Institute for Entertainment Industry Studies at Drexel University. "Let's say they have video of a car on fire. It's incumbent of [each newsroom] to do the digging to the real story of why the car is on fire." The challenge, he said, would be to "manage the different cultures in the newsrooms."

Contact staff writer Michael Klein at 215-854-5514 or

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