- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 30, 2002

Cable television's NewsChannel 8 has told about 30 employees roughly one-quarter of its staff that they will be laid off in August, when the network plans to merge with ABC affiliate WJLA-TV (Channel 7).
Pink slips have been given to at least eight anchors and reporters, including sportscaster Joyce Jackson, weekend anchors Hugh Thomas and Susan Carter, and weekend weatherman Chuck Cruise.
The Springfield channel, which has roughly 125 employees, also plans to dismiss most of its personnel and business departments, turning those duties over to WJLA.
The station began handing out the layoff notices in March. The terminated staffers have been told their last day likely will be in August, when the merger is expected to be completed.
"It's difficult to come to work every day knowing your days are numbered," said one laid-off employee, who asked to not be named.
NewsChannel 8 and WJLA are owned by Washington banking magnate Joe L. Allbritton and his family.
In March, WJLA said it would merge its newsroom with NewsChannel 8, creating the largest local TV news operation in Washington. It is expected to have about 185 employees, or roughly 65 more than most big-city TV newsrooms.
The stations will primarily share behind-the-scenes staffers, but they have not ruled out having WJLA anchors and reporters appear on NewsChannel 8 and vice versa.
In August, both operations will move into the twin towers office complex in the Rosslyn section of Arlington, former home of USA Today and its parent company, Gannett Co. Inc., which owns CBS affiliate WUSA-TV (Channel 9).
WJLA is now based in Northwest Washington.
The merger is part of the Allbritton family's long-term plan to boost WJLA, which has trailed its competitors in the local news ratings for decades.
The TV station has recruited marquee anchors, including Maureen Bunyan and Doug Hill, two popular WUSA veterans, in its bid to boost ratings.
No layoffs have been announced at WJLA.
"We're still in the early stages of determining how we're going to operate together," said John D. Hillis, NewsChannel 8's president and general manager.
He declined to confirm the number of employees who have received termination notices.
Staffers who have not been given a pink slip said they fear more layoffs will be announced once the merger is completed. "There's a lot of apprehension about going to Rosslyn," one staffer said.
NewsChannel 8 is one of about 30 all-local-news cable channels in the nation. It draws fewer viewers than the local broadcast-network affiliates but often beats national 24-hour news channels CNN, Fox News Channel and MSNBC in ratings.
Mr. Allbritton founded News-Channel 8 in October 1991. The network airs local news throughout the day and repeats ABC News programs, such as "World News Tonight," "Nightline" and "20/20," within 24 hours of their first airing on WJLA.


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