The new owners of Missoula television station KTMF plan on launching a local news broadcast this spring, giving Missoula its third locally-produced news show.
Max Media of Montana purchased the Missoula ABC affiliate in March, along with stations in Bozeman, Butte, Great Falls, and Kalispell.
“We don’t think you can be in local television without doing local news because that’s a service you give your viewers,” says Philip Hurley, president of Max Media. “It’s our view that’s one of our responsibilities as a local broadcaster.”
Max Media is still in the early stages of putting its news broadcasts together, Hurley says. The company has not yet hired a news director.
What the company has been focusing on is consolidating technical operations at all five stations across the state into one master control room. The entirely tapeless operation, run on a fiber optic network from Max Media’s corporate office in Missoula, will be among the first of its kind in the nation. The consolidated master control will affect all the programming on the five stations, but will have unique implications for news coverage.
“It gives us the ability to transport news stories from station to station,” Hurley says. “There may be a story in Missoula that has some interest in Great Falls and we can move that story over the network live, so it gives us the capability to package the newscast with stories from all over Montana.”
Past experiments with regional news packaging in the state have had mixed results, says Bill Knowles, professor and chairman of the radio and television department at the University of Montana’s School of Journalism. Knowles, who has done some consulting for the station, points to the Montana Television Network, which aired a regional newscast throughout the state in the 1960s.
“The state’s a lot bigger now in terms of population,” Knowles says. “I think people are going to find they want local news. I’m not sure the regional operation is going to work that well for them.”
KTMF will enter a market that already has two very competitive news broadcasts, KPAX and KECI, the CBS and NBC network affiliates, respectively. Is Missoula a big enough market to support three local newscasts?
Hurley and Knowles both think it is, if the shows are done right.
“As far as oversaturation, you let the viewer decide that. It’s just called good local competition,” Hurley says. He and his partners were successful in adding local newscasts in two competitive markets in Texas before coming to Montana, he says.
“I think you cannot have too much news in a market,” Knowles says. “I hope [KTMF] succeeds because it’s more jobs for our students and our graduates, and more channels of information available in Missoula and Montana is good for the people.”