- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 28, 2002

Executives at Allbritton Communications Co. are putting the finishing touches on the merger between the newsrooms of its two Washington operations, ABC affiliate WJLA-TV (Channel 7) and cable network NewsChannel 8.
After months of planning, management has decided both operations will share reporters and behind-the-scenes staffers, but not news anchors, sports anchors and weathermen.
In other words, WJLA anchorwoman Maureen Bunyan and chief meteorologist Doug Hill will be seen only on that station, but WJLA reporters such as John Harter and Horace Holmes will now contribute stories to NewsChannel 8, too.
"To physically move these operations in together wouldn't make much difference. The proof will be in the content we are able to produce," said Robert L. Allbritton, president of Allbritton Communications.
The changes will kick in next month, when both operations move into the Twin Towers office complex in the Rosslyn section of Arlington. They will occupy the massive sixth floor at the base of the towers, which formerly housed the offices of USA Today and Gannett Co.
NewsChannel 8, now based in a Springfield industrial park, moves this weekend and could begin airing from Arlington as soon as Labor Day. WJLA leaves its home in upper Northwest two weeks later and will tentatively begin broadcasting from Arlington Sept. 16.
The merger will create the largest local television news operation in Washington. It will cost just under $20 million, including the cost of new state-of-the-art editing equipment, new furniture and interior office construction.
Together, WJLA and NewsChannel 8 have about 300 employees, and roughly 180 will work in the combined newsroom. The typical big-city TV newsroom has about 120 employees, including anchors, reporters, cameramen, producers, editors and other technicians.
NewsChannel 8 announced about 30 layoffs in March, when the merger was announced. No further dismissals are expected.
Before the union, WJLA and NewsChannel 8 would each send a news crew to cover the same story, whether it was a fire in the suburbs or a press conference at City Hall. Now, the combined operations will share an assignment desk that will dispatch one crew for each story, giving the rest of the reporters more time to develop sources and break news, Allbritton executives say.
Each operation will draw on the other's strengths, executives say.
For example, WJLA's senior correspondent, Jim Clarke, has covered the White House and Capitol Hill for 35 years, far longer than anyone at NewsChannel 8, which Allbritton Communications started in 1991.
NewsChannel 8, on the other hand, has carved its niche covering local education and government. Maryland State House correspondent Bruce DePuyt, for example, is regarded as one of the best in the region, covering political stories in Annapolis that other stations usually ignore.
The merger is expected to provide the biggest boost to WJLA, which has struggled in the ratings for decades.
Local news is the main source of revenue for network-affiliated television stations. As much as half of an affiliate's profit margin the percentage of total revenue retained as profit comes from local newscasts.
WJLA generated $97.9 million in annual revenue last year, behind NBC-owned WRC-TV (Channel 4) and Fox-owned WTTG-TV (Channel 5), which each generated more than $100 million, according to media research group BIA Financial Network Inc.
Allbritton executives have spent the past few weeks ironing out kinks in their plan with the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, which represents anchors and reporters at WJLA. NewsChannel 8 is not a union shop.
Negotiations are still under way, but sources on both sides of the talks say there are no stumbling blocks. "Our only concern is that you will have nonunion people appearing on WJLA," said Mr. Clarke, a union liaison in WJLA's newsroom.
Most reporters are enthused about the new equipment Allbritton has purchased for the combined newsroom, Mr. Clarke said.
The photographers for WJLA and NewsChannel 8 will continue to shoot stories on tape, but they will now be dumped into a digital server that will allow several users to access the footage at once.
"It is going to dramatically improve the speed and efficiency of the news-gathering process," said Steven D. Hammel, WJLA's vice president and news director.

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