JOHNSTOWN, Pa. — The TV news has a familiar feel to it here in west-central Pennsylvania.
News stories broadcast on WJAC, the NBC affiliate in town, have appeared on nearby station WATM, the ABC affiliate. And many of those stories are broadcast on WWCP, the Fox station here, as well.
Not just the same topics — identical stories, reported by the same reporter or anchor, and repeated, almost verbatim at times, by the other stations.
Recently, for example, both WATM and WWCP aired during their morning newscasts the same report about a Vietnam Veterans Day ceremony. Anchors at both stations used virtually the same language to set up the story.
The stories featured the same sound bite from the same official. Then, during its noon newscast, WJAC repeated the whole thing.
Almost all of the look-alike news emanates from WJAC’s studios, located next to a cemetery on the southwest side of town. Inside, reporters and anchors buzz around two sets equipped with backdrops representing the three different stations. The anchors assemble in front of the appropriate backdrop when that station has its newscast scheduled.
The media overlap in Johnstown — where all three stations are either owned or managed by the Baltimore-based Sinclair Broadcast Group — is part of a trend that has spread across the country, as a small number of large holding companies are taking over local TV stations, often more than one in the same market.
It has allowed companies to cut costs by consolidating newsrooms that may have once competed against each other — creating a uniformity of news coverage and, critics fear, diminishing the watchdog power of local media.
TV news is expensive to produce, and across the country, the number of viewers has been plummeting. Many owners argue that some stations wouldn’t have news at all if they didn’t share staffs and programming.