- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 5, 2002

Fox affiliate WTTG-TV will begin a late-afternoon newscast Monday, a high-stakes gamble to duplicate the success of its popular and profitable 10 p.m. news show.
WTTG (Channel 5) will air the new program weekdays at 5 p.m., a time slot now occupied by the high-rated "Judge Judy." The station will move "Judy" to 4 p.m., where it will air opposite the venerable "Oprah Winfrey Show" on ABC affiliate WJLA-TV (Channel 7).
If "Fox 5 News at Five" holds onto the "Judy" audience, WTTG's payoff could be huge.
Stations must share the advertising revenue they generate from syndicated fare like "Judy" and "Oprah" with the programs' distributors. However, broadcasters get to keep all the ad revenue they generate from local newscasts because they produce those programs themselves.
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.
WTTG generated $100.6 million in annual revenue last year, second only to NBC affiliate WRC-TV (Channel 4), according to estimates by media research group BIA Financial Network Inc.
"From our perspective, this newscast is a natural evolution for us. It just makes sense for us to be on in the afternoons," said Katherine Green, vice president and news director.
She declined to say how much money the station, which the Fox network owns, will spend to start the newscast. WTTG has hired 10 staffers including reporters, producers, writers, editors and photographers for the new program, and it has embarked on a major promotional campaign, plastering ads on the back of Metro buses across Washington.
"This is not a surprising move. News has been a successful tool for Fox stations. It makes them a lot of money," said Robert A. Papper, a Ball State University telecommunications professor who studies the profitability of TV newsrooms.
WTTG is the second station in Washington to add a local newscast this month. On Sept. 3, WJLA revived its half-hour noon newscast after 15 years.
"Fox 5 News at Five" will pit WTTG in a four-way battle for afternoon news viewers, an audience made up primarily of housewives, retirees and the unemployed.
WTTG will attempt to distinguish itself with daily "franchises," reports that air under an umbrella title. The 5 p.m. franchises will include "At Home" (home and gardening reports), "On Call" (health care) and "The Bottom Line" (consumer affairs).
In addition, evening weathercaster Sue Palka will do a weekly segment called "The Gender Gap," which will explore the differences between men and women.
The franchise reports are aimed primarily at women. "We want men to watch, too, but women are the audience we have at our disposal at that hour," Ms. Green said.
The station's 10 p.m. news anchors, Tracey Neale and Brian Bolter, will preside over the 5 p.m. newscast. Dave Feldman will give sports reports, and newcomer Gwen Tolbert will deliver the weather.
The emphasis on franchises represents WTTG's latest attempt at innovation. The station's signature in recent years has become vibrant graphics and dramatic "staging" for its live reports.
When reporter Will Thomas recently introduced a story on an injured pet, he didn't simply stand in front of the hospital that treated the animal. Instead, a camera followed Mr. Thomas as he began his introduction in the hospital's lobby and then walked through the front door.
The flashy style is typical of reports on WTTG, which has won more Emmy awards for local news in the past two years than any station in Washington.
"Ultimately, it boils down to the story, but we want our presentation to be as compelling as possible. We want our reporters to be interactive, to make the viewer feel like they're part of the story," Ms. Green said.
WTTG pioneered the prime time local newscast in 1966. It added morning news in 1990 and a half-hour of news at noon in 1994.
The addition of a 5 p.m. newscast will dramatically change the daily routine in the station's newsroom, which until now was the only broadcaster in Washington with the luxury of having an entire day to produce its late news.
Some newsroom staffers worry that the quality of their work will suffer because they are dividing their time between the 5 p.m. and 10 p.m. newscasts.
"I'm not sure it's fair right now to make the connection between the amount of time the station has to work on its stories each day and the quality of their product. I think the future will tell," said Joy Allison Zucker, president of the local chapter of the National Academy for Television Arts and Sciences, which hands out the Emmy awards.

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