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Published: Thursday, 3/1/2012 - Updated: 2 years ago

Channel 36's owner plans to lay off 63

BY KRIS TURNER
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER

The parent company of WUPW-TV, Channel 36 intends to lay off 63 employees as part of the station's pending $22 million sale.

LIN Media, the owner of WUPW, filed a layoff notice Tuesday with the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services. The company was required to do so under the federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act.

The layoffs are slated for sometime between April 24 and May 8, according to the notice. The layoffs will become official if and when the Federal Communications Commission approves the sale of WUPW to American Spirit Media and the sale is completed.

The paperwork doesn't say how many people are employed at WUPW or if everyone at the station could lose their jobs. Employment information isn't included in station reports to the FCC.

American Spirit Media would have the option of rehiring some of the laid-off employees.

A woman who answered the phone at WUPW on Wednesday was shocked to learn of the potential layoffs and said the station hadn't made her aware of them.

The layoffs come on the heels of a shared-services agreement between WUPW and WTOL-TV, Channel 11 that is attached to the sale. The pact states Channel 36 and Channel 11 would be able to share news staff and broadcasts. In addition to news, WUPW and WTOL would share access to studios, master control, technical facilities, maintenance, and promotional efforts.

Similar agreements have been made between Raycom Media, the owner of WTOL, and Thomas Henson, the head of American Spirit Media, in three other cities.

Shared-service agreements typically result in a loss of jobs and the duplication of news programming.

The contract between WTOL and WUPW is for at least eight years and hinges on FCC approval. The new owners of WUPW would pay WTOL more than $1.3 million the first year of the agreement. That amount would be adjusted for inflation in following years.

Calls made to LIN Media, WUPW, Raycom Media, WTOL, and American Spirit Media were not returned.

Libby Reinish, advocacy and organizing manager for Free Press, said the pending layoffs would be one of the largest the group has recorded.

Free Press is a nonpartisan organization that promotes media transparency and tracks the effects of shared-service agreements across the country.

Ms. Reinish estimates about 466 people have lost their jobs as a result of the agreements.

"That is one of the biggest layoffs that we have seen so far," she said. "The only one I can think of off the top of my head that's bigger is in Honolulu, where there were 68 layoffs. That's the same company involved there, Raycom."

Raycom has a track record of striking these agreements across the United States. They almost always result in layoffs and the duplication of news broadcasts on competing stations, Ms. Reinish said. The community loses out when there is less competition among news organizations, she said.

"This happened in Charleston, S.C.," she said. "They maintained a few of the same on-air staff.

"They use a lot of the same reporters in the field and the same camera crews. They have microphones that have the logo of one station on one side and the logo of the other station on the other, and they just flip it around."

Contact Kris Turner at: kturner@theblade.com or 419-724-6103.



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