- The Washington Times - Monday, March 22, 2004

Allbritton Communications Co. announced yesterday it has taken over the daily management of its two television operations in the Washington area, WJLA-TV (Channel 7) and NewsChannel 8.

The two stations will no longer have a full-time general manager. Instead, Frederick J. Ryan Jr., Allbritton’s president and chief operating officer, will add the management of WJLA, the region’s ABC affiliate, and cable network NewsChannel 8 to his duties.

In this role he replaces Christopher W. Pike, who will move to Allbritton’s corporate office in the new position of corporate sales chief. No layoffs are planned, executives said.

Mr. Ryan said the change was made because Allbritton, based in the District, has become increasingly involved in decision-making at the stations, which merged and set up shop in Arlington in 2002.

“We’re only two Metro stops away. We thought we might as well collapse this artificial wall between the corporate office and the two stations,” said Mr. Ryan, who will work primarily from an office in the WJLA-NewsChannel 8 newsroom.

The management change rattled some newsroom staffers, who said they fear corporate executives will become too involved in news coverage and personnel matters. Some staffers trace the recent decisions to dump WJLA veterans Del Walters and Rene Knott to the corporate office.

WJLA is already unique because it is one of the last locally-owned-and-operated big-city TV stations. Allbritton’s chairman and chief executive, Robert L. Allbritton, is a common presence in the newsroom. Mr. Allbritton also runs the Riggs National Corp. banking chain.

Allbritton Communications owns eight stations, primarily in the Southeast. In his new role, Mr. Pike will oversee advertising sales throughout the chain.

Many staffers at WJLA and NewsChannel 8 said they will miss Mr. Pike. The industry veteran was popular in the newsroom, and was known to wheel around a cart with snacks and sodas when staffers had to work overtime on big stories.

Mr. Pike said he believes WJLA and NewsChannel 8 both improved during his watch, but he was disappointed with ABC’s poor ratings, which he said depressed viewership for WJLA’s newscasts.

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