- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 5, 2003

Gordon Peterson had arrived for breakfast at a Georgetown restaurant Saturday when a friend told him that NASA had lost contact with the Space Shuttle Columbia.
The WUSA-TV (Channel 9) anchorman excused himself and bolted for the studio. On his way to his car, he bumped into Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, who hadn't heard the news.
"I was on the cell phone with the assignment desk when I ran into him. He was stunned when I told him what was going on," Mr. Peterson said.
Mr. Peterson didn't get on the air until 7 p.m., when he anchored an hourlong special on the shuttle disaster. But the CBS affiliate still made its mark on the story: In addition to the special, it dispatched anchor J.C. Hayward to Cape Canaveral and reporter Gary Reals to Houston.
WUSA also expanded Saturday's 11 p.m. newscast to an hour.
Why did the station throw so many resources at a story that the networks were covering?
"We have our own audience. We have a responsibility to serve them. And this is Washington. Everything emanates from here," Mr. Peterson said.
Fox affiliate WTTG-TV (Channel 5) sent weekend anchor Will Thomas to Texas. Reporter Brad Bell flew to Texas to cover the story for ABC affiliate WJLA-TV (Channel 7) and its sister network, NewsChannel 8.
Only the reporters and photographers at NBC affiliate WRC-TV (Channel 4), the most-watched local news operation in Washington, stayed put.
"I don't feel the need to go to Florida or Texas when the network is already there. NBC News has Bob Hager down there covering this thing. You don't get much better than that," said Robert L. Long, WRC's vice president of news and operations.
A station can spend $5,000 to $10,000 to send a reporter and photographer to another city for a few days, said Robert A. Papper, a Ball State University telecommunications professor who studies newsroom economics.
The costs include as much as $1,000 for last-minute airfare, plus money for lodging, food and car rentals. Stations also pay $30 to $50 a minute for a satellite uplink when the reporter goes on the air live, Mr. Papper said.
There is also the cost of overtime for employees who have to cover for the news crew that is on the road, he said.
During tough economic times, Mr. Long prefers using his resources elsewhere. He figures the Washington area, home to the Goddard Space Flight Center, has the largest population of NASA employees outside Florida and Texas.
"There is plenty for us to cover here," he said.
David Roberts, WUSA's vice president and news director, said the shuttle disaster was too big to ignore. "Sometimes a story transcends the definitions of what is local and what isn't. This one did," he said.
In other news
WRC's 4 p.m. news edged past WJLA's "The Oprah Winfrey Show" in January. The newscast drew an average 99,780 households, compared with 97,610 for "Oprah," Nielsen Media Research said. During the four-way news race at 5 p.m., WRC led, with 127,980 households followed by WUSA, with 106,290; WJLA with 97,610; and WTTG with 75,920.
American University-owned public radio station WAMU-FM (88.5) said it averaged 551,000 listeners a week in the fall, a record.
Allbritton Communications Co. named Bill Lord news director of WJLA and NewsChannel 8 on Monday. An article about Mr. Lord's appointment was omitted from some of yesterday's editions.
Questions? Comments? Tips? Call Chris Baker at 202/636-3139 or send an e-mail to cbaker@washingtontimes.com.

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