The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

February 26, 2014

George Hancock | Population drop could hamper local news coverage


JOHNSTOWN — Our population deficit has created numerous befuddling issues. A recent Tribune-Democrat editorial, “We’re losing the numbers game,” highlights one aspect of this troubling situation. Cambria County’s current population trend could drop Cambria County from its fourth class status to fifth class. This means Cambria County could lose two row offices. Several hundred county employees could lose their jobs.

Cambria County’s population loss is a staggering 1,000 people a year. We face myriad repercussions from that. Yet, many locals do not understand or appreciate the dynamics of this situation.

This drastic population decline could hamper local news coverage. Our local news outlets are dependent upon readers, viewers, listeners and advertisers. Unfortunately, many of the local news organizations are not locally owned.

The Tribune-Democrat is owned by Community Newspaper Holdings Inc (CNHI). CNHI publishes newspapers in 130 communities in the United States. CNHI is based in Montgomery, Ala.

Seven radio stations in the Greater Johnstown region are owned by Hollidaysburg-based Forever Broadcasting Co.: WKYE (Key 95), WNTJ (1490), WRKW (Rocky 99), WCCL (Cool 101), WFGI (Froggy 95), WWOT (Hot 92) and WLLI (990 AM, The Fanatic).

WJAC-TV is owned by the Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc. Sinclair owns 167 television stations in 77 markets. Sinclair is affiliated with every major television network.

Greater Johnstown’s other television station, WWCP FOX 8, is a mystifying corporate entity. WWCP is owned by Horseshoe Curve Communications. However, Horseshoe Curve recently sold its holdings to Cunningham Broadcasting. Cunningham is owned by the Smith family. The Smith family is the principal owner of the Sinclair Broadcast Group.

One wonders what would happen when our declining population trends reduces the income for these out-of-the-area owners. Would they close their Greater Johnstown news locations?

Local owners are in touch with changing community trends. They see and hear their communities’ concerns. Nonlocal owners rely on their management teams for information. But, local management may fudge the picture to preserve their employment status.

Our region is fortunate to have Forever Broadcasting, The Tribune-Democrat and WJAC-TV in our midst. Each communications medium promotes local events.

Forever Broadcasting, for decades, has helped local residents with its annual 12 Wishes of Christmas program. Numerous individuals have received assistance during the Christmas season. Forever is also associated with other charity and donation events.

The Tribune-Democrat’s Weekend section highlights events across our region. Road races, used book sales, school events, fish fries, church festivals and myriad other events are printed for public inspection. Reporters also cover many of these events. Of course, not every event is featured in print. But, the Tribune publicizes the date and times of these community endeavors.

Do you recall that old adage a picture is worth 1,000 words? We live in a visual age. Video from the WJAC film crews creates lasting impressions. We witnessed winter’s extended cold and snowy stay through those WJAC lenses.

But several perplexing issues haunt our local news outlets. One Greater Johnstown concern is the extraordinary airtime given to State College and Dubois by WJAC. WJAC has news bureaus in both locales. Anything Penn State is featured nonstop. Centre County receives extensive news coverage.

It’s time to dial back that blanket coverage. Cambria and Somerset counties should be the primary WJAC focus. The Sinclair Broadcast Group can create a television station for the Centre County region.

Forever Broadcasting features excellent programming. The news coverage does need improvement. The current news coverage is good. But, Forever also needs afternoon and weekend news coverage.

Another suggestion is moving Pirates baseball to a FM station. Pirates fans frequently follow the action via radio. Forever’s AM signal is weak.

The newspaper industry faces hurdles. Newspapers vanish as technology advances. Smartphones, tablets and social media outlets have replaced newspapers. Yet, sound bites and pictures do not provide in-depth information.

An informed public needs the detailed information provided by newspapers. The newsprint versus screen argument is for another day.

I begin my day reading The Tribune-Democrat. I mull the news articles on my daily run.

Our population loss and its effect on local news organizations is my concern. Johnstown can easily lose one of these news outlets.

George Hancock of Scalp Level Borough is an occasional contributor to the editorial page.