WTVH Sheds Newsroom, Cuts 40 Jobs

By March 4, 2009 CBS, Journalism No Comments

 

WTVH Channel 5

WTVH Channel 5

Syracuse, NY — WTVH, Channel 5, CBS, eliminated 40 jobs yesterday, which includes most of its news department.  This, many of  St. Louisians will recall is similar to the mass firings at KDNL in October 2001.  The reason for canceling the news in Syracuse? Ratings.

Granite Broadcasting will outsource WTVH’s operations to WSTM, according to the Central New York Post-Standard (www.syracuse.com)

WTVH led the ratings races consistently for decades, but had fallen onto hard times in recent years. The station is now ranked 3rd in a three station market. The Granite Broadcasting station, will combine with Barrington Broadcasting’s WSTM, and operate out of WSTM’s studios. The station is Syracuse’s first television station, signing on in 1948.

Like at KDNL, the employees were given the news during the news meeting. After the layoffs were announced, they began packing up and leaving. Barrington & Granite’s press release after the break. My take on this follows the press release:

CENTRAL NEW YORK TELEVISION STATIONS JOIN FORCES

Barrington Broadcasting Group, LLC and Granite Broadcasting Corporation announced that effective March 2, 2009 WSTM-TV and WTVH-TV will be operated jointly from the WSTM-TV studios in Syracuse, NY. Barrington will operate both stations under a joint sales agreement (“JSA”) and shared services agreement (SSA) with Granite, owner of WTVH-TV.

Under the terms of the agreements, Barrington will continue to operate WSTM-TV and provide advertising, sales, promotion, administrative services, and selected programming to WTVH-TV. This arrangement between Barrington and Granite will create a better and more efficient operation of two outstanding local television stations. A similar arrangement provides that Granite will provide advertising, sales, promotion, administrative services and selected programming to Barrington’s Peoria, Illinois station, WHOI-TV.

In making this announcement, Barrington’s Chief Executive Officer Jim Yager stated, “We are delighted to be working with a forward-thinking company like Granite. Together, our companies and stations will focus the combined resources of these great stations on becoming even better community citizens and at the same time providing measurable benefits for our viewers and advertisers.” Granite Broadcasting Corporation’s Chief Executive Officer Don Cornwell said, “This arrangement provides opportunities for substantial operating efficiencies by allowing us to use existing infrastructure to expand the breadth of local news and services provided to the viewers of Central NY, while enhancing the revenue and profitability of both stations.

Under the terms of the JSA and SSA, plans include expense reductions through the combining of resources and the reduction of some staff positions. While details of expense and staff reductions have not yet been released, those affected will receive a generous severance package and job placement assistance will be offered at company expense.

One of the chief advantages of the shared service operation of WSTM and WTVH will be the ability to offer local and national news, as well as programming of community interest in new and varied time periods, giving viewers greater opportunity to watch at their convenience. The Granite and Barrington plan is expected to take full advantage of this opportunity, offering more choices in terms of the breadth and amount of local news. It will look to provide newscasts in time periods not currently programmed with local news allowing viewers more access to Central NY news and information.

WSTM and WTVH actively serve, support and promote many local charities and community organizations in Greater Syracuse, Oswego, Watertown, Rome, Utica, Ithaca and Cortland along with all the other communities in Central and Northern New York. This service and support will be enhanced by the combined resources of the stations and their ability to cover an even larger geography.

Along with the new agreements, Barrington will continue to own and operate WSTQ-TV, the CW affiliate for Central New York and Weather Plus digital channel 3.3, Central New York’s only 24 hour local weather channel available over the air on DT 3.3 and on Time Warner Cable digital cable channel 133. Together these four (4) stations will provide a great variety of local news programming, 24 hour local weather, great network programming from NBC, CBS and CW and popular syndicated programming like Dr. Phil, The Ellen DeGeneres Show, Access Hollywood, Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy. Additionally, the stations carry big time college and professional sports such as NFL Football including the 2009 Super Bowl on NBC, College Basketball including the March Madness and the Final Four on CBS, College Football, Yankees Baseball, the PGA Tour and much, much more.
In addition to providing television programming to the community, WSTM, WTVH, WSTQ and Weather Plus will combine resources on the Internet with CNYcentral.com, Barrington’s community based website in Syracuse. CNYcentral.com provides news, weather and sports on line coverage along with community and entertainment information and event schedules.
Barrington was formed in 2003 to acquire and operate television stations in smaller markets across the United States. Barrington currently owns, operates, or supports the operations of twenty three network affiliated television stations. Barrington is owned and controlled by Pilot Group, with management as its partner. Pilot Group is a non-traditional private investment firm founded in 2003 by a group of operating executives who actively help its management partners achieve their goals.

Granite operates in geographically diverse markets reaching over 6.0% of the nation’s television households. The Company’s station portfolio consists of four NBC affiliates, one ABC affiliate, one CBS affiliate, one major market MyNetwork TV affiliate and one major market independent station. The NBC affiliates are KSEE-TV, Fresno-Visalia, California, WEEK-TV, Peoria-Bloomington, Illinois, WISE-TV, Ft. Wayne, Indiana and KBJR-TV, Duluth, Minnesota and Superior, Wisconsin. The ABC affiliate is WKBW-TV, Buffalo, New York, The CBS affiliates are WTVH-TV, Syracuse, New York and WBNG-TV, Binghamton, New York. The MyNetwork affiliate is WMYD-TV, Detroit, Michigan and the independent station is KOFY-TV in San Francisco, California.

My Take:

Where does that leave viewers? Another station will program news for two separate stations, and potentially two completely different types of audience.  Like with newspapers, TV stations are largely successful by understanding the audience that they broadcast to. Will WSTM be able to cater to the Channel 3 and Channel 5 viewers? Only time will tell, but meanwhile, there will be 40 people vying for jobs in an economic climate that is full of other laid off journalists.  

In St. Louis, we have seen the results of no local news on major affiliate (KDNL – ABC) and the combination of news operations (KTV-FOX,  KPLR-the CW), which added more to unemployment rolls, and left viewers with fewer choices for local news. In St. Louis there has been no improvement in local news coverage in St. Louis, and the viewers have largely suffered.  Syracuse is probably resigned to the same fate. 

Can stations return from the brink of collapse, and still make money and provide viewers with the coverage deserve, and keep them informed? I think so, but it involves stations going back to basics with their coverage.  TV news has been successful largely because it is a living, breath form of a newspaper.  At some point in the last couple of decades, the idea of a hard news, newspaper style of coverage was cast off, and  in its place a ‘faux’ total coverage (I’m sure many of us remember the ’24 Hour news-source’ bandwagon of the 1990s), where the station looks the part of a 24 hour news operation, but rarely lives up to it, largely because of corporate ownership requiring news operations to be profitable. The ads make the money, not the news. This has been largely ignored by the people who run the Heart/Argyles, the Belos, and the Sinclair Broadcast Groups of the industry.  Until this changes, the  industry will continue to bleed red ink, and bleed good journalists through attrition.

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