Saturday, May 23, 2009

Ch. 9 Could Cancel Weekend Newscasts

By Richard Huff

Here's the new reality of local news.

Advertising is in the dumper, and stations, looking for ways to cut, are thinking about things never dreamed of before.

For example, WWOR/Ch. 9 officials, as part of an ongoing, overall review on how to survive and cut costs, have raised the idea of eliminating weekend newscasts.

Nothing is in concrete, not even close, but cutting the newscasts - Saturdays and Sundays at 10 p.m. - is just one scenario being discussed at the Fox-owned station as executives race to find ways to pare budgets before the company's new fiscal year begins in July.

The change, if approved, could take place as early as this summer, sources say.

The weekend newscasts are officially anchored by Mike Gilliam, though Jennifer Jordan and Megan Vega, often co-anchor, or handle the shows alone.

In Ch. 9's case, if the change were to happen, it would likely result in on-air staffers remaining and continuing to work for Ch. 9 and sister station WNYW/Ch. 5, while the savings would come off-camera, where the company is now in negotiations with its unions to get cost concessions and, ultimately, reduce the staff.

Word is that when the dust settles at Ch. 9, there definitely will be cost reductions, though their exact nature has yet to be determined.

Cutting newscasts is already happening elsewhere. In Chicago, CBS' WBBM recently announced it was cutting all weekend morning newscasts as a way to adjust to new financial realities.

Ch. 9 is not alone. A rival who will remain nameless said the idea of cutting back weekend offerings was raised there, too, but ultimately dropped because the risks of not having something outweighed any incremental cost savings.

Last year, WCBS/Ch. 2 axed a Sunday night sports show because it was viewed as a safe cut.
Cutting straight news, however, raises the stakes a lot. And the fact that it has been discussed in any way is another example of the new, not-so-great reality in local television.


WNBC/Channel 4 Grounds News Helicopter

By Richard Huff

WNBC/Ch. 4 and WNYW/Ch. 5 have combined forces in the air through a new, official helicopter sharing agreement that means the end of Chopper 4 as viewers knew it.

Ch. 4, the first station in the market to have a dedicated helicopter for its coverage, is now sharing footage, a chopper and staff with Ch. 5.

It's part of a cost-cutting move by both stations in a market where every station has been battered by declining advertising revenues.

"This a strategic, smart example of how you can take a valuable resource and everybody wins," said an NBC Local Media spokeswoman. "This is part a local news arrangement that is working very well."

A Ch. 5 spokeswoman confirmed, that the "chopper share is up and running."

The two stations began testing the concept in March. And, in the past two weeks, Ch. 4 viewers in the morning have heard the voice of Ch. 5's Kai Simonsen from the station's SkyFox helicopter. The stations have shared footage from such recent news events as a brush fire in New Jersey and a building collapse downtown.

Cutting out one of the choppers and sharing the costs can shave $500,000 a year from the budgets of each station. WCBS, Ch. 4 and Ch. 5 all lease their choppers and crews from the same company.

There has also been talk of a potential sharing arrangement between Ch. 2 and WPIX/Ch. 11.

Separately, Ch. 5 and Ch. 4's parent companies are working on a video sharing cooperative, called Local News Service.

"It's been tough, I never though there'd be a day when I wouldn't be in the air," Dan Rice, Ch. 4's former chopper correspondent, told the Daily News.

Rice, who is married to Ch. 7's chopper reporter Shannon Sohn, told The News he'd learned he would lose his job in March, just after winning an Emmy Award for his chopper coverage of a crane collapse in Manhattan.

In Ch. 4's case, it is yet the latest step in belt tightening and a change in approach to producing and delivering news that has led to the departures of several well-known on-air staffers including Jay DeDapper, Kendra Farn and Carolyn Gusoff. Ch. 4 is not alone in making cuts, by any means, but none has gone deeper - yet.

For instance, WABC/Ch. 7 this week cut bureau chiefs at its bureaus. And Ch. 2, last year made on-air and off-camera cuts, and this year dropped sportscasters Ducis Rodgers and John Discepolo. Ch. 11 has cut a handful of off-air staffers and could trim more, while WWOR/Ch. 9 is expected to make cuts in its production staff before summer.

"Day one of no Chopper 4 is strange," Rice wrote in a Twitter feed to fans Friday. "First time in 16 years without a job.

No comments: