Sinclair cuts back on `News Central'

Live newscasts' viewership called low


Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc. is significantly curtailing the corporately produced news program known as News Central that had been a lightning rod for criticism from opponents of media consolidation.

Under the format, live anchors at Sinclair's Hunt Valley headquarters produced newscasts that were shown on many of the company's 56 stations across the country.

Critics complained that the newscasts were disingenuous because they appeared to be locally produced. Others said the feeds came with a conservative bent and homogenized the news content the company was providing its viewers.

The company drew controversy during the 2004 presidential campaign for several news decisions, including blocking an edition of ABC News' Nightline that recited the names of fallen soldiers in Iraq and initially agreeing to air a documentary critical of Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, the Democratic nominee, on the eve of the election.

Sinclair introduced the News Central model in 2002 as a way to air live newscasts and save on operating costs.

David B. Amy, Sinclair's chief financial officer, said last night that the company decided to change the format because of low viewership. He denied Internet rumors that described the programming as being eliminated entirely.

While Sinclair is getting rid of the live anchors that send out news feeds from Hunt Valley, its television stations will be sent "content feeds," much like a wire service sends stories to subscribing newspapers, Amy said.

"It's just a matter of the numbers," Amy said of the reduction in News Central. "It wasn't generating the kind of ratings we had ... anticipated it would achieve."

The company will close news operations at four of its WB stations in Milwaukee, Buffalo, N.Y., Tampa, Fla., and Raleigh, N.C., by March 31. Fourteen other WB affiliates owned by Sinclair do not have newscasts, Amy said.

KVWB (WB 21) in Las Vegas had a newscast that included national feeds from Hunt Valley which was discontinued March 3.

Sinclair announced yesterday that the station will now air a newscast produced by competitor KVBC-TV (NBC 3).

Some applauded the retrenchment of the News Central format, which had been criticized as shrinking the number of voices reporting the news.

"I'm pleased the News Central model didn't work," Deborah Vance, an assistant professor of communication at McDaniel College, wrote in an e-mail. "Conglomerates have been cutting costs in their news delivery here and there, and viewers are the ones that suffer because there are fewer and fewer local reporters covering local stories."

"People should know what's going on in their community, and content should not be composed of filler and imported weather reports," Vance said.

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