Verizon reverses earlier statement saying it was pulling out of the hyper-local news business. State and local politicians weighed in with a variety of criticisms and legislative ideas.
Verizon Fios customers who want hyper-local news will have to wait a couple of weeks to find out what will replace the Fios1 News channels in the Lower Hudson Valley, Long Island and New Jersey.
Tony McNary, Verizon’s Atlanta-based senior manager of corporate communications, told The Journal News/lohud on Tuesday that an announcement will be made by “first week to middle week of September.
“We will continue to provide hyper-local news in that area,” McNary said. “I can’t go into details more than that, but we will be making an announcement very soon as to how we will be providing that, how we will continue to provide that for our customers.”
The statement reverses last week’s statement by Verizon that it was discontinuing its hyper-local news arm. It also comes after several prominent New York politicians weighed in on the news.
McNary said two things were certain about the yet-to-be-announced coverage: It will not be called Fios1 News and it will not be produced by Rye Brook’s RNN.
For a decade, RNN has been staffing the Fios1 News outlets, employing 150 journalists and technical staff to produce newscasts and features with traffic and weather tailored to three particular markets.
As The Journal News/lohud reported first on Sunday, that arrangement will end Nov. 15; Verizon has opted not to renew the 10-year contract.
McNary declined comment when asked if it was possible that Verizon would somehow partner with Altice’s News12, the only broadcast rival in the region, to provide hyper-local coverage.
Altice spokeswoman Lisa Anselmo said she would not comment on that either, but touted News12’s growth across the region.
RNN staff notified
Each of the Fios1 channels also aired “Richard French Live,” the hour-long nightly public-affairs show hosted by RNN news president Richard French, whose family owns RNN and RNN TV.
On Saturday, in keeping with New York’s labor law, French alerted his employees via email that their jobs would end on Nov. 15.
French met with staff on Monday, walking them through the severance package, which will included two weeks pay and medical coverage through the end of the year.
Mouths to feed
Linda Eder, a Broadway veteran and singer who lives in North Salem, reacted to the news by taking to Facebook on behalf of her friend, Fios1 News anchor Courtney Kane.
“She is the lone provider for her 11-year-old triplets and now needs to find a job ASAP to support them and stay in their current home,” Eder wrote. “She is a hardworking, good hearted person and I am devastated for her and her family.”
Eder asked her Facebook network to forward job ideas or leads to her on behalf of Kane.
Cuomo tweets support
The news sparked tweets from elected leaders, from Gov. Andrew Cuomo to Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro, Cuomo’s opponent for governor last year.
Cuomo tweeted: “Disturbed by Verizon’s plans to shut down #FiOS1News, a great source of local news & a blow to the already struggling local news landscape. I encourage all NYers to support local journalism – it’s more important now than ever.”
Molinaro tweeted: “Local journalism is a vital resource for the community. An informed public is imperative in our democracy, and Verizon Fios’ decision is another devastating blow in a time when local news outlets have seen dramatic cutbacks.”
State statutes and criticisms
Westchester Assemblyman Tom Abinanti weighed in, tweeting: “Verizon is abdicating its obligation to inform the public about what’s happening in local communities. #KnowledgeIsPower”
Reached Tuesday, Abinanti said he is monitoring the situation and looking into whether state law has something to say about it.
“I have serious concerns that their proposal is a violation of the state statutes,” Abinanti said. “The consumer protection statutes which require that they give notice of a serious cutback of service.”
Loss of hyper-local news, he said, would be a cutback of service at a time when news outlets are shrinking. The Public Service Commission should be involved if such a cut in service arises, he said.
State Sen. Shelley Mayer agreed with Abinanti and called “incredibly unacceptable” the prospect that there could soon be one hyper-local cable news outlet covering millions of residents between Long Island and Westchester.
She also criticized Verizon for its disregard for the 150 RNN staffers losing their jobs.
“That’s a large number of people losing their jobs through no fault of their own, simply because Verizon changed its mind,” Mayer said.
The senator said she and her legislative colleagues will need to craft the “most effective response” to the news. She said that could include legislation to impose a greater burden on cable providers to include local content and laws to enable the Public Service Commission to be more aggressive in requiring local content.
Westchester County Executive George Latimer took to Facebook: “So it’s goodbye FiOS News. Verizon has decided to save the money. This after a big tax break front Washington DC that cost regular NY taxpayers big time. I worked for major corporations; they will do whatever is in their financial interest. Expecting them to put public good > profits via cost cutting is a vain expectation.”
Abinanti’s tweet prompted David Lamendola, Verizon’s governmental affairs director in New York and Connecticut, to respond early Tuesday.
“We understand hyperlocal news is important to @verizonfios customers, and plan to continue offering it,” Lamendola tweeted. “I can assure you, there will not be a lapse in coverage. Plans will be announced soon. Thank you.”
Lamendola’s tweet and McNary’s comments on Tuesday were 180 degrees from McNary’s comments on Friday, when he said: “We still carry all the local broadcast networks, so customers will continue to have access to local news.”
McNary, whose office is in Atlanta, chalked up the difference to unfamiliarity with the term “hyper-local news.”
“Hyper-local news is a new terminology that in my 16 years of being a reporter I had never heard of,” McNary said Tuesday. “I worked in local news at local networks and all we covered was local news so that’s what I see as hyper-local/local. It’s all of the same, in my opinion.”
Abinanti said the New York City stations barely scratch the surface of what’s going on in the five boroughs, and provide scant coverage of the suburbs.
“So we are left, in Westchester County right now, with three mass media outlets and that’s News12, Fios1 and The Journal News,” he said. “We will lose one-third of the media outlets in Westchester County if Fios1 closes.”
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