A small terrestrial (i.e., the kind that uses normal tower-based transmission) broadcast television station, KFTY, Channel 50 in Santa Rosa, California, has fired its entire news staff and is going to rely on viewer-submitted material for news. Joe Garofoli of the San Francisco Chronicle calls it
a nationally watched experiment in local television coverage. Over the next few months, the station's management plans to ask people in the community -- its independent filmmakers, its college students and professors, its civic leaders and others -- to provide programming for the station.
Will they be paid? That's being worked out. Who will cover the harder-edged stories? Some will be culled from local newspaper and TV online sites, [station executive] Spendlove said, and "other sources" that are still being discussed.
User-generated content has been a feature of the internet since blogging began. Joel Hyatt and Al Gore's company, Current TV already features user-generated video on a cable network, albeit one with limited distribution. So far as I know, KFTY's plan will be the first time a holder of a broadcast license has gone for user-generated news content in the United States.
On the web, there is no shortage of user-generated video, and Pajamas Media has made the production of video segments by its contributing bloggers a business strategy.
KFTY's news broadcasts apparently never made money. It is a small station in the northern suburban fringe of the Bay Area, reaching about 1/8 of the metropolitan population of over 6 million. But its signal is carried by my cable system, and I believe by all the other cable systems in the Bay Area, at least in the extended digital packages. So it is available beyond its broadcast signal range.
Only time will tell if it is able to rise above the level of community access channels on many cable systems. It is clearly an experiment. It may develop the same kind of sporadically interesting programming that we see on Berkeley's community access channel, where anything goes, and amusing lunatics are often on display. Ot KFTY may attract amateurs looking for jobs, and anxious to strut their stuff on an actual TV station.
Virtually every non-internet media segment faces the same dismal advertising environment: the rising share of internet advertising is pinching their revenues. Cost cutting is the name of the day from the New York Times to NBC to local radio and TV. The fat years are over, and journalism may be about to get a lot less "professionalized" and hifalutin'. That is probably not a bad thing, all things considered.
More than ever, critical viewing, reading, and thinking skills will be required. But then, discerning the truth from the hands of the pros has never been that easy. At least we will be on notice.