Our Opinion: State news channel is nice, not enough

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Charter/Spectrum's decision to add a Massachusetts news station on Channel 1 is welcome. It will make a nice supplement to WWLP Channel 22 out of Springfield and WCVB Channel 5 out of Boston when the cable giant gets around to rectifying the mistake it made when it yanked both channels from its Berkshire cable lineup.

Spectrum News Massachusetts will be based in Worcester but has hired a Pittsfield-based multimedia reporter in Matt Ristaino, who comes from the Holliston Recorder, a citizen journalism website ("Spectrum launching channel serving Berkshires," Dec. 26.). The 24-hour service will have three half-hour newscasts daily and two on weekends.

Dan Ronayne, the senior vice president of Spectrum News, Northeast, told The Eagle's Clarence Fanto that the decision reflects "a growing desire for hyperlocal news in the areas we serve." However one wants to define "hyperlocal," there is no denying that residents of Berkshire County, founded in the great state of Massachusetts in 1761, desire Massachusetts TV news. This will be particularly important in 2020, a major election year that will feature a Democratic primary race for U.S. Senate that is usually tantamount to election. Spectrum removed WWLP from the Berkshire lineup in 2017 and WCVB departed a year later.

The Federal Communications Commission has classified Berkshire County as part of the Albany, N.Y., market since the dawn of television, and while so much has changed dramatically in the world of television in the decades since, this anachronism remains. WWLP, an NBC affiliate, and WCVB, an ABC affiliate, are seen as redundant, and the Albany affiliates of NBC and ABC surely don't want the competition in the Berkshires, which they nonetheless had for a number of years. Beyond forecasts of weather coming in from the west, however, Albany news stations are of little or no relevance to Berkshire viewers. Each fall, Berkshire fans of the New England Patriots miss seeing their team play on several Sundays, or endure a non-HD broadcast out of Hartford, because Albany's CBS affiliate is carrying the New York Jets game.

State Rep. John Barrett III, who represents North Berkshire, warns that with the creation of Spectrum News Massachusetts the company may claim that it is fulfilling its obligation to provide state news to subscribers. However, it is unlikely that the new station will have the resources to compete with WWLP, let alone WCVB, which has long been a highly respected news channel. If that is indeed Spectrum's game plan, residents and relevant officials should be able to see through it.

With his long experience with telecommunications issues, U.S. Senator Edward Markey has been leading the charge at the federal level for the Berkshires, introducing legislation requiring Spectrum to return the two Massachusetts channels to the lineup. Rep. Barrett has pressured Attorney General Maura Healey to look into the cable giant's practices and the entire Berkshire legislative delegation has petitioned to have the channels returned. Spectrum and its parent company Charter, however, won't budge, an insult to paying Berkshire subscribers that is not negated by the addition of Massachusetts Channel 1.



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