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June 13, 2013 at 11:54 AM

Be concerned about Gannett’s purchase of Belo and KING5

The Belo Building stands on June 13, 2013 in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

The Belo Building stands on June 13, 2013 in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

News of Gannett’s pending purchase of Belo’s television stations is not good. The Dallas-based company’s stewardship of television stations across the country has long set the gold standard for local broadcast journalism.

This could result in a huge loss for viewers in the Pacific Northwest, where Belo runs news stalwarts like KING5 in Seattle (a Seattle Times news partner), KREM in Spokane, KTVB in Boise, KGW in Portland and Northwest Cable News, which spans the entire tri-state region.

I’ve never worked for any of the company’s affiliates, but I’ve worked as a television reporter in Boise and Portland where I had to compete against their people and their resources. It was never easy.

What sets a Belo station apart? Belo’s stations are hard to beat because their leadership is competent, their on-air talent is consistent, and for all the problems inherent in feeding the so-called TV news beast, they have a tradition of producing high-quality content for local television and digital viewers.

Every broadcast reporter I know wants to work for a Belo station. At journalism job fairs, their booths are always mobbed.

I can see why their properties would be appealing. The stations are in growing markets and tend to dominate or stay right at the top of news ratings.

When KOMO TV was sold to Sinclair a few months ago, I had industry friends point out that things might be okay because out-of-state Belo has maintained a strong sense of integrity in its ownership of KING5.

What happens now if the Gannett deal goes through? I can’t predict the details, but expect a fundamental shift in how business is done. Gannett is massive and already owns 23 other television stations. How much will the McLean, Va., corporation care about the city of Seattle and its surrounding areas? I don’t know.

Local television news remains an integral part of so many lives. When breaking news happens, they become even more critical. When ownership changes, our community loses a sense of certainty in a station — a critical thing for any company to have when it is responsible for delivering credible information to the masses. Media ownership isn’t just about shares, stocks and diversification; it’s about independence and the greater purpose of keeping people informed so that communities can be safe and our democracy can thrive.

Anyone else have their eyes glued to the screen during the Interstate 5 bridge collapse over the Skagit River? I was flipping between local channels for hours. In my humble opinion, KING5 offered the best, most analytical, accurate coverage. I heard a reporter on another channel refer to eyewitness reports of fatalities at the scene, which turned out to be totally false. Meanwhile, KING brought on Glenn Farley to explain bridge structures. The difference was night and day. One station offered sensation; the other gave us context to the best of its ability during a volatile situation. That is a reflection of good ownership.

Be skeptical of this Gannett deal. Belo needs to explain why its shedding its broadcast stations. Is this really the only path forward?

Comments | Topics: gannett, king5, media

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