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Long Island’s Fair Media Council Says WCBS/WLNY Deal Is ‘Wonderful Thing’

The Fair Media Council was created as a media watchdog on Long Island. Its main event for the year is the Folio Awards, held each April.  Beyond that, one piece of news captivated the Council.

Viewers are yet to see the full effects of WCBS/Channel 2′s acquisition of WLNY/Channel 10, 55.

Fair Media Council executive director Jaci Clement says this is important on so many levels.

“It’s a wonderful thing when you look at the total media landscape of the island,” Clement tells FishbowlNY. “Because what you have here is one major news source [Cablevision] that dominates the news of Long Island.”

Cablevision created News 12 Long Island in 1986. Then the Bethpage-based company bought Newsday in 2008, giving Long Islanders no recourse for finding news and information via TV and newspaper.

“Since they merged, you see more and more of them working closely together and actually producing less local news,” Clement says. “…We actually have less news now than we had in the past.”

Verizon FiOS was the first challenger to make inroads on Long Island in the last decade for cable operation, and to a lesser extent, exclusive programming. But Clement says its slow development has kept the company from becoming a player.

But with Channel 2 grabbing the antiquated, independent station WLNY, everyone has a second option.

“To have CBS coming into the market is a huge deal, and it starts redefining the landscape,” Clement says.

She tells FishbowlNY that the purchase of ‘LNY did not come as a surprise, but CBS’ timing did catch her off guard.

“Because it didn’t seem connected to anything in particular, like if you had a strong political season coming up you could say it was bought for the ads,” Clement says.

As we reported last month, WCBS announced its first plans for the revamped WLNY. Initially, a 9 p.m. newscast will catch viewers eyes with the regular 6 p.m. Channel 2 team of Chris Wragge and Dana Tyler, plus Lonnie Quinn and Otis Livingston. WCBS management also is targeting mornings with a two-hour news block to compete with WNYW and WPIX. While exact dates are uncertain, both news programs are scheduled to launch in the summer. WLNY will keep its linchpin on the lineup, as mega-popular Judge Judy holds down the 10 p.m. slot.

Clement praised the WCBS brass for going with tried and true on-air personnel, and not making 55 a “minor league” station.

“They could have hired a bunch of nobodys or a bunch of young kids out of school with no experience that were cheap to hire,” Clement says. “…Every indication by which you would want to measure this shows that they’re committed to making it work.”

This is not CBS’ first stroll down the duopoly path. The network owns KCBS and KCAL in Los Angeles, and has said that successful model will be used here, and that may include extending the prime time newscast in the future.

Although WCBS is using all of its resources and talent, Clement sees another positive sign that this will not simply be a simulcast for the two channels. However, viewers can expect to see certain reports air on both newscasts.

Clement, who joined the FMC just before 9/11, isn’t just speaking about the CBS/’LNY situation after the fact. Her clout on the Long Island made her a vital “go-to” person providing input when the deal was done.

“As soon as Peter Dunn [WCBS, general manager] got the OK, he called me to let me know this was going to happen,” Clement says. “And that was long before the FCC approved the license.”

Thereafter, she met with Dunn, news director David Friend, and SVP Joel Goldberg discussing what Channel 55 had been doing and how WCBS could improve upon that product.

One way to improve the WLNY experience for viewers is to upgrade the Melville studio into a HD facility. However, the bulk of the WLNY live programming will originate at the CBS Broadcast Center on 57th Street.

Going forward, Clement anticipates the changes to WLNY will have an big impact on Cablevision, which replays newscasts during much of the day.

“I would hope it would make them much more competitive, in terms of offering more different stories throughout the day, as opposed to the repeating the same stories,” Clement says.

“What Cablevision does on News 12 is say, ‘As Local as Local News Gets,’” Clement says. “Well now people will have the option of turning to 55 for local news, and they won’t need a cable subscription.”

WCBS need not attempt to slay the dragon, which Clement vehemently supports.

“If I were them, I wouldn’t view News 12 as that much competition,” Clement admits. “I would hope they’re aiming higher.”

A News 12 spokesperson gave FishbowlNY this comment:
“For the past 25 years, News 12 has provided Long Islanders with quality news coverage focused exclusively on Nassau and Suffolk counties. We continue to provide the award-winning coverage our viewers have come to expect, and will continue to provide it 24-hours a day on multiple platforms for the audience’s convenience.   Our viewers know the value we provide, so we welcome competition.”

As for the specific challenge that 55 faces, Clement would like a strong mix of content that includes highlighting issues facing Nassau and Suffolk residents and the lighter, feel-good packages.

“Even though not everything around here is perfect, there’s still a lot of reasons to stay here and not tell your children to move off the Island, if they want to build a future,” Clement boasts.

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