Oprah's Departure Not Cause For Panic, FTC Told

Fred Young says talk queen's exit could be opportunity for local news
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"Oprah stations will survive!" That was one of the messages to the Federal Trade Commission from veteran broadcaster Fred Young, according to a copy of his prepared testimony for a Federal Trade Commission workshop on the future of journalism.

Young, former senior VP of news for Hearst Television, said he could not let the opportunity of that public forum go by without talking about Oprah's pending departure from broadcast TV and the speculation about its impact on the business.

He said he was offended by what he called the "agenda-driven" stories about "broadcaster panic" related to her exit.

He conceded that those stories had been a "major audience destination" but also said that "If local broadcasters can cover hurricanes, tornados and ice storms; government misdeeds and political campaigns; the tragedies of 9/11 and Fort Hood; health care reform and swine flu epidemics; Super Bowls and steroid scandals --- we can deal with Oprah's retirement," he said.

He said it could even be an opportunity for local news, with some of the money that went to paying the freight for her syndicated show may be redirected to "fresh forms" of local news programming.

Albritton, for example, whose WJLA Washington carried her show, has said it would consider a number of different options for the time slot, including tapping into its extensive local news operations across broadcast, print and online in the market.

Young said broadcasters were doing good work in tough times, the main thrust of his testimony being that broadcasting is "alive and well and functioning at a very high level." He pointed out that local TV continued to be the preferred source of news, a point also made by News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch in a speech to the workshop audience.

And like Murdoch, Young said he had concerns about the government stepping in. "Some have suggested that the way to improve broadcast news is to get the government involved in one way or another," he said. "Such suggestions concern me greatly. They are rife with the potential for mischief and unintended consequences. With all of its faults, the marketplace provides sufficient incentives for broadcasters to produce award-winning local news."

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