Allbritton flexes its muscle

May 13, 2002  •  Post A Comment

Allbritton Communications is gearing up to combine its ABC affiliate WJLA-TV and cable Newschannel 8 in one location in Rosslyn, Va., to become the largest local electronic news-gathering organization in the Washington market.
“Having the advantage of this larger news-gathering operation will make us more competitive on a daily basis on breaking news. And when there are larger events in the market, we should be able to dominate on coverage,” said Christopher Pike, WJLA general manager, who will run both entities when they move to one facility in August. Construction of that facility began in February.
Newschannel 8 was launched about 10 years ago as a local 24-hour cable news channel. Each day it produces eight newscasts, which are repeated. The cable news channel, for the time being located in Springfield, Va., is distributed throughout the market to 1.1 million homes on Comcast Corp., Cox Communications and Adelphia Communications systems. WJLA, which produces five newscasts a day, is located in Northwest Washington.
About 300 people, including 200 staffers in the news department, will make the move to the high-rise building in Rosslyn. Although there won’t be layoffs in the news department, other offices such as human resources, administration, promotions and engineering will be consolidated. There will be two separate sales staffs.
On the news side, the station and cable channel will combine for one daily editorial meeting, and the assignment desk, reporters, photographers and editors will work for both channels. But there will be three news managers-a news director for WJLA, another for Newschannel 8 and a director of news operations who will manage the consolidated news staff.
Each station will retain its separate anchor teams and have separate studios and control rooms, since many newscasts overlap. While the WJLA set is fairly new, the Newschannel 8 set may get a slight makeover in the process.
Currently, the only synergy between the two operations has been some limited sharing of video. Routinely, news crews from Newschannel 8 and WJLA show up to cover the same stories. That will all change in August.
“We will be in effect one company with two product lines,” Mr. Pike said. “Each day, each station will have unique content because they have somewhat different missions, and on any given day there will certainly be some overlap of content.”
Mr. Pike said in addition to the stations’ being more competitive on breaking news, the move to one location will also allow news staffers to have time to work on enterprise stories. He added he does not envision simulcasting on both stations. He said the news products will remain “unique” on both properties, and that if anything the move could mean more original programming for Newschannel 8.
“They are unique products, and the more they can remain unique the better,” Mr. Pike said. “There may be opportunities during significant events, whether they be election night coverage, big weather events, where we would either simulcast or opportunities where anchors will appear back and forth on both stations during those events.”
The new facility will be a computer-server-based state-of-the-art newsroom. Photographers will shoot in tape on DVC Pro and feed it into computer servers in the newsroom. Staffers will be able to browse through video from their desks, and theoretically all 11 edit bays can access the same video immediately, once the video is loaded into the servers, which are made by Leitch. That means staffers from WJLA and Newschannel 8 could edit the same video at the same time for different stories or promos. Editing will be nonlinear, and program and commercial playback will also be server-based.