Thoughts From the Dean | Webster University

Thoughts From the Dean

Possible Effects of FCC Rule Change: Broadcasters No Longer Need Local Studio

by Eric Rothenbuhler. Ph.D.

ST. LOUIS (October 27, 2017) – The FCC has eliminated the rule requiring broadcasters to maintain a studio in or near the community their signal serves. The current rule dated from 1939 and I believe there were similar rules in place before that. Eliminating something so fundamental to the traditional conception of broadcast regulation seems radical.

Eric Rothenbuhler at deskThose who advocated eliminating it argue it is just a practical matter, that citizens have other ways to communicate with management now; they no longer need to be located in the same community. Those who argued against eliminating it said that wasn't really the issue; the rule supported the production of local content and helped broadcasters reflect the cultures and concerns of their communities, improved their service to those communities.

Combined with the expected next step in the decades-long trend of relaxing the ownership rules, many worry that this will result in fewer and less diverse voices and perspectives as well as less local community service. If Sinclair's proposed purchase of Tribune goes through and they own somewhere north of 200 television stations, should we expect them to maintain 200-some news departments? Surely, too, these developments will result in fewer employers and fewer employees in news and production.

Other developments seem to pull in other directions, though. The proliferation of ever smaller and more convenient media technology, along with the growth of the gig economy, means production studios and production work can be anywhere. The proliferation of podcasts, YouTube and Vimeo videos, and social media discussion groups point to other forms of media-centered community-and people's ongoing desires for community. In traditional broadcasting, most of the folks I know are working to be more local, more engaged with their listeners and viewers, not less. These rule changes may turn out to be something that corporate owners pushed for as operational economies, that turn out to be bad for communication. And that's the interesting thing about the media business: If it isn't good for communication, it won't, in the long run, be good for the business either.

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