- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 11, 2002

Negotiators for Allbritton Communications Co. and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) will hold their first meeting with federal mediators today, 19 days before the company's contract with the union expires.

Talks between the company and the union have been going on all summer, but one key issue has kept the two sides from completing a new three-year agreement: how many reporters will be allowed to double as photographers at Allbritton's local television news outlets, ABC affiliate WJLA-TV (Channel 7) and cable's NewsChannel 8.

Allbritton is merging both newsrooms this month at a new headquarters in Arlington. The $20 million merger will create the largest local television news operation in Washington, with a single pool of reporters and photographers who will prepare stories for both channels.

NewsChannel 8, which is not a union shop, has used the "one-man-band" approach to newsgathering for years, requiring some reporters to operate their own cameras and sound equipment at news scenes.

Two reporters now act as one-man bands, but Allbritton has proposed doubling that number. The one-man-band reporters will be used solely for community-oriented feature stories and not for big, breaking stories, executives said.

The federation, which represents WJLA's on-air talent and will also have jurisdiction over NewsChannel 8 reporters and anchors who wish to join the union after the merger, wants to limit the number of one-man bands to three.

The matter is "not a major stumbling block," said one executive, who predicted it will be resolved quickly.

WJLA reporters would not be asked to double as their own photographers, executives said.

Some WJLA union members still oppose the idea, saying reporters shouldn't have to worry about shooting their own video. "It changes the essence of what reporters do. It's absurd," one staffer said.

WJLA's agreement with the National Association of Broadcast Employees and Technicians, which represents photographers at the station, allows non-union members to operate cameras and other equipment for no more than 15 hours per week.

However, people familiar with that contract said the provision applies only to in-house equipment. "[The unions] interpretation is that it does not apply to roving cameras used in the field," the source said.

Ratings roundup

The debut of "Fox 5 News at Five" on WTTG-TV (Channel 5) finished fourth in its time slot Sept. 9 with an audience of about 51,000 local households.

Local news on WRC-TV (Channel 4) finished first with an audience of about 110,600 households, followed by local news on WUSA-TV (Channel 9) with about 78,700 households and WJLA-TV's news with about 59,500 households.

At 4 p.m., WJLA's "The Oprah Winfrey Show" creamed WTTG's "Judge Judy" in their first head-to-head battle.

"Oprah" drew more than 85,100 households, followed by WRC's news with about 80,800 households, "Judy" with about 74,400 households and WUSA's "Montel" with about 57,400 households.

When "Judy" aired at 5 p.m. during the May ratings sweep, it drew about 108,000 households.

NPR drops Kojo

National Public Radio will drop "Public Interest with Kojo Nnamdi" from national distribution Sept. 30, but the talk show will live on at WAMU-FM (88.5).

The NPR affiliate, which produces the program, will retitle it "The Kojo Nnamdi Show" and shift its focus to interviews with local newsmakers and daily contributions from WAMU reporters. It will still air weekdays from noon to 2 p.m.

NPR distributed "Public Interest" to 37 stations nationwide. It dropped the show because it saw "limited growth potential," a spokeswoman said.

Questions? Comments? Tips? Call Chris Baker at 202/636-3139 or send an e-mail to [email protected]

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