Sharing assets in Miami

May 19, 2003  •  Post A Comment

When WBFS-TV anchors Jennifer Santiago and Danielle Knox spend the last 15 minutes of their newscast on their feet, it’s not because it’s a new trend in news coverage.
They stand because sister station WFOR-TV needs the space occupied by the WBFS anchor desk.
The Viacom-owned UPN station is part of a duopoly with WFOR, the CBS owned-and-operated station in Miami. Not only do they use the same studio, they also share a news director and a newsroom.
As more stations become part of duopolies they’re finding it makes sense to share certain facets of their news operations to maximize their resources. Some areas remain separate-the main news anchors, for example, usually only report for one station-but editors, reporters, equipment and sets are often shared.
Quick on Their Feet
For WBFS and WFOR, the quick changeover that leaves the anchors on their feet is necessitated by the two minutes and 40 seconds between the end of WBFS’s 10 p.m. news and the start of WFOR’s 11 p.m. news. During the UPN station’s final break, the anchors move to a stand-up area with monitors, graphics and animation while the news desk begins its exit, freeing up that portion of the set for WFOR’s newscast.
The set is symbolic of the sharing between the two stations. Weather and sports talent are shared, as are the reporters. Even anchors sometimes fill in on the other station, and the WBFS anchors occasionally do news breaks for WFOR.
The only positions that don’t cross over are the producers for each newscast since they work for specific shows.
Most of the Viacom-owned duopolies have united a CBS station that airs several news hours with a UPN station with little or no news. Viacom’s Los Angeles duopoly of KCBS-TV and independent KCAL-TV, which was completed in January, is unusual because it united two broadcasters with substantial news operations.
Combined, the stations air 11 hours of daily news-six on KCAL, five on KCBS-from one newsroom in the KCBS facility. Each station has its own news set, but one sports set serves both, said duopoly News Director Nancy Bauer Gonzales. “We are maintaining two different looks, but we are more like cousins. We want people to know we are meshed,” she said.
KCBS and KCAL each call their sports news show Sports Central, but they distinguish the coverage in subtle ways. The lighting and animation on the desk varies slightly, and plasma monitors feed different logos and animation.
“We are trying to develop one identity for sports,” said Patrick McClenahan, senior VP and station manager for both outlets.
In addition to the sports set, the stations share a stand-up area between their news sets. While the news sets are separate, they are linked thematically, since the wood and paint colors are similar. Music, logos and graphics share common themes.
News anchors and main sports anchors maintain the identity of one station, but the rest of the news staff is fluid. At the end of one newscast, the other station’s news is promoted.
The duopoly eliminated a “minimal” number of news positions during the transition, and most of those were open or vacated ones, said Ms. Bauer Gonzales.
The paired stations can devote more resources to top stories than either station could have done separately in the past, she said. “I have everyone from KCAL and KCBS so I can put double the staff on the street. That beefs up both stations’ coverage on a night something big happens.”
Still, eliminating a competitor-which essentially happens when two stations become friends-raises the question of maintaining the quality of news in a market.
Competition breeds excellence, said Al Tompkins, broadcast online group leader with The Poynter Institute in Tampa, Fla. However, in a market such as Los Angeles, which has several strong news players, a duopoly isn’t likely to lower the level of competition.
“There has to be some recognition that as a standard principle, competition is good, and competition leads to excellence. The question no one can answer is how much competition is necessary,” Mr. Tompkins said.
To maintain competition as much as it can, Fox Television Stations keeps its news divisions somewhat separate at its duopolies.
In Minneapolis, Fox O&O KMSP-TV and UPN station WFTC-TV both had 9 p.m. newscasts when they became a duopoly in 2001. Carol Rueppel, general manager of both stations, eliminated the 10 p.m. half-hour news on KMSP and redirected WFTC’s 9 p.m. news into the 10 p.m. hour on that station.
“What we decided to do with the merger was not compete against each other,” she said. The station combined news staff, live vehicles, cameras and editing facilities. The stations share a management team and an assignment desk, but each has its own editorial team that makes separate decisions about what to include on the news. While the base of resources can be shared-editors, photographers and equipment-producers, reporters and anchors are assigned to each station.
If a reporter develops an enterprise story, the reporter keeps it for his or her respective station. “We think that viewers shouldn’t see them as a blend or blur. They should be distinct stations with a distinct looks,” Ms. Rueppel said.
That philosophy extends to the sets. KMSP and WFTC use separate sets, studios, music, color and graphics. They don’t cross-promote each other, either. “The whole idea is to build two strong stations.”