- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 7, 2002

ABC affiliate WJLA-TV (Channel 7) said yesterday it will merge its news department with NewsChannel 8, the 24-hour local cable news network, creating the largest local TV news-gathering operation in Washington.
Some WJLA reporters and anchors are expected to appear on NewsChannel 8 and vice versa, but officials at Allbritton Communications Co., which controls both operations, said those details are being worked out.
The merger will occur in August, when the stations move into a shared headquarters in Arlington. Each operation will have its own news director and separate advertising departments, but they will share camera operators, editors, technicians and other behind-the-scenes staff.
"Each station will have its own identity and content. The real combination will take place in the news gathering and news production," said Christopher W. Pike, WJLA's president and general manager.
The combined WJLA-NewsChannel 8 newsroom would have about 185 employees, or roughly 65 more workers than most big-city TV newsrooms.
Mr. Pike would not say if layoffs will occur when the merger takes place. Allbritton "will look for efficiencies where possible," he said.
WJLA is now based in the District, while NewsChannel 8 is located in Springfield. Both operations will move into the Twin Towers in the Rosslyn section of Arlington, a complex occupied until recently by USA Today and its parent, the Gannett Co.
Most WJLA newsroom employees are organized into one of three unions, and the station will honor those contracts when it moves to Virginia, a right-to-work state, said Jerald N. Fritz, senior vice president of Allbritton.
NewsChannel 8 employees are not unionized. They will become part of the WJLA employees' bargaining units, which will allow them to receive the same benefits as WJLA's unionized workers, Mr. Fritz said.
"This is good for NewsChannel 8's people," said Pat O'Donnell, executive director of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, a labor union that represents about 40 WJLA anchors and reporters.
Mr. Pike will take over the management of NewsChannel 8. John Hillis, NewsChannel 8's president and general manager, will become an Allbritton executive.
NewsChannel 8, founded in 1991, has thrived at a time when other local cable-news channels have folded. It regularly beats CNN and other national news networks in the ratings.
Allbritton sees the merger as the next step in a long-range plan to boost WJLA, which for years has trailed its competitors in Washington, the nation's eighth-largest television market.
WJLA in recent years has added marquee anchors like Maureen Bunyan, but its weekday newscasts did not win a single time slot in February, one of four months when TV broadcasters try to boost audience levels so they can raise ad rates.
The merger will improve WJLA's ratings because it will have broader news-gathering abilities, Mr. Pike said. "We're not going to be sending two crews to cover the same story anymore, which will give us more freedom to develop sources and break news," he said.
News operations are increasingly teaming up to cut costs. In Florida, the Tampa Tribune and an NBC affiliate have moved into the same building, although they maintain separate staffs.
"More and more, these types of relationships are going to make sense in the future," said Carl Gottlieb, deputy director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism, a group that monitors local newscasts across the nation.
The WJLA-NewsChannel 8 merger was announced the same day WTTG-TV (Channel 5), a Fox affiliate, anchorman Mike Landess announced he was leaving the station to return to Denver.
Mr. Landess will become an anchorman for KMGH-TV (Channel 7), an ABC affiliate. A replacement will be named in mid-April, WTTG said.


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