Sook: Broadcasting's Localism Is Envy of Other Media

Case for that value must be made in Washington, he says in accepting RTNDF award
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Nexstar president Perry Sook Wednesday made a pitch for the value of local content, particularly news, including content that is made possible via sharing arrangements.

That came in an acceptance speech for the Radio-Television Digital News Foundation's First Amendment Service Award, one of several awards given out at its annual dinner in Washington.

According to a copy of the remarks provided to B&C (see below), Sook also reminded his Washington audience that they needed to make the case for the value of local content to policymakers.

Sook told the crowd that, while he has often been described as a sales guy, his first job was delivering the now-defunct Pittsburgh Press when he was 8; his first job out of high school was the afternoon drive news anchor and reporter at a commercial radio station in Athens, Ohio; and he did a three-month stint as a news anchor and reporter at a small TV station in West Virginia.

Sook pointed out that when he founded Nexstar in 1996, his first station was CBS affiliate WYOU-TV Scranton, Pa. (Nexstar now owns 107 stations, the second largest group after Sinclair in number of stations). The broker pitching the sale talked about how WYOU was losing money on local news and could be more profitable if it were eliminated. Sook said the short-term financial case for dropping news was compelling. But he also said he was focused on making good long-term decisions.

"I'm proud to say that some 19 years and 106 additional stations later, WYOU is still in the local news business.”

He conceded that WYOU shares a building, equipment and journalistic resources with another Nexstar station in the market, WBRE-TV, but said that model has helped Nexstar support and grow the news.

"We have used these sharing arrangements to create and expand local news on almost 20 Mission-owned stations and to create over 20 hours per week of new local newscasts on the stations just purchased by Marshall Broadcasting."

Nexstar last year agreed to sell three Fox affiliates to Marshall Broadcasting, a new minority broadcaster headed by Pluria Marshall Jr., president and CEO of Equal Access Media. Nexstar is guaranteeing the loans Marshall secured to buy the stations and is providing sales and other services. 

Sook said that Nexstar produces a total of 1,497 hours per week of local news, which is a third more local content than the stations were producing when the company bought them.

But while he said his audience knew the value of local content, he suggested that might not be the case for others inside the Beltway.

Sook said he believed TV was in a golden age, with local reach "never more powerful and influential." He also called it is "the responsibility of everyone in this room to make sure that the legislators and regulators who work in this town know that value too."

Sook also said there is a need to carry that value forward for the next generation of journalists which is why Nexstar partners with the Newhouse Graduate Program at Syracuse to allow a dozen students to come to Washington to produce content carried on all Nexstar platforms, some of whom have gone on to jobs with Nexstar.

Sook said TV's golden age was also represented by broadcasting's "very personal" connection with consumers, which he called "the envy of other forms of media and every competitive distribution platform covets access to our unique and relevant local content.... What we do, what you do is essential, and as an industry we need to focus on the core of what we do and become less caught up in how we do it. If we continue to serve the needs of our local viewers and advertisers, we will always have a business and it will be a good business."

The RTDNF First Amendment Awards "honor individuals and organizations for their work on behalf of First Amendment freedom." This year's ceremony mark the 25th anniversary of the awards.

Also receiving awards were New York Times reporter James Risen, First Amendment Award; ABC's Ann Compton, the Leonard Zeidenberg First Amendment Award, named for the late Broadcasting & Cable senior correspondent; and Kathy Kirby, the First Amendment Leadership Award.

In addition, a new Citation of Courage award was given to ISIS-murdered journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff for "distinguished service to journalism and the extraordinary courage to face danger and, ultimately, their own deaths in search of the truth."

CBS's Bob Simon, who died in an auto accident last month, received RTDNF's Lifetime Achievement award.

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