Tuesday, Oct 23, 2018
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TV station in Toledo outsources most work

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There will be new faces on the WNWO-TV, Channel 24, news team after the first of the year.

And they won’t be broadcasting from Toledo.

In a cost-cutting measure by parent company Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc., WNWO plans to outsource the bulk of its news programming to Sinclair’s WSBT-TV, Channel 22, in South Bend, Ind., resulting in local station layoffs, which Sinclair confirmed in a news release issued Tuesday.

The changes to Channel 24’s news production are expected in the first quarter of 2017; however, the station’s affiliation with NBC and the network’s programming will remain unchanged.

“We’ll be hubbing our news product to South Bend, Indiana,” one source close to the situation said. “They’re planning to keep a news coverage crew present here, possibly 11 people. 

“Somehow this is happening between January and March.”

According to Nielsen’s Local Television Market Universe Estimates for the 2015-16 television season, Toledo is the 77th-ranked market in the United States with 397,620 TV-watching households, with South Bend-Elkhart the 96th ranked market with 310,170 TV homes.

In its news release, Sinclair said that the station’s news production “will be reorganized in order to improve both the news product and production efficiencies. All of the local news content will continue to be covered by local reporters and will be produced in Toledo, but the technical aspects of the newscast will be handled by staff at Sinclair’s South Bend, Indiana, station.”

Some of the content for WNWO’s newscast will also continue through the Sinclair network of five stations in Ohio and Southern Michigan, as well as a bureau in Washington.

“Sinclair’s investments in technology have made it possible for newscasts to be produced in a more efficient fashion and allow us to continue to provide local news to the community, which in the past would not have been possible,” Scott Livingston, Sinclair’s vice president of news, said in a statement.

Mr. Livingston said WNWO will maintain a staff of local reporters and meteorologists.

News of Channel 24’s major shift in its news identity was made to station employees at a mandatory staff meeting at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday, sources said, with employees learning throughout the day if they will keep their jobs at WNWO after March.

There was no word on how many employees will be laid off by the decision to outsource the news programming, and station management did not responded to several messages left by The Blade. Calls to WSBT General Manager John Nizamis, who joined the South Bend station in February after two years as WNWO’s general manager, were not returned.

One source said: “Many other positions exist because of the live news product, so it’s not clear who else” will be affected by the decision to outsource the station’s news.

Talk of Sinclair making changes to WNWO have circulated for weeks, sources said, fueled in part by newsroom openings at the station remaining unfilled for months.

As little as a week ago, a source said, there were whispers of a major corporate meeting at the station. “We all speculated that it was just budget [related] or that it could be a new news director. It wasn’t until we walked in for the meeting this morning and saw people from corporate that we knew this isn’t just something usual.”

The source added: “The news product we are producing, it will not exist for the long term and we are very sad about that.”

Dom Caristi, associate professor in the department of telecommunications at Ball State University in Indiana, said Sinclair’s outsourcing the bulk of WNWO’s newscast to a central hub hundreds of miles away isn’t a new industry trend.

“This has been done before,” he said. “But they’re still going to have to have boots on the ground in Toledo. You can’t have somebody from South Bend reporting on a fatal shooting in Toledo. And it takes too long to send a truck from South Bend.”

But as a cost-cutting measure, having a group of employees in one station do the work for two or more station staffs can be effective.

For example, a feature story on winterizing a car can be put together by a reporter at the South Bend station and still have the same impact and appeal when it airs in Toledo.

“You’re not reducing the news cost to zero,” Mr. Caristi said, “but you can reduce it. You won’t need as many people.”

A perennial also-ran in local ratings, WNWO has a long and often colorful history dating to its origins as WDHO — short for its owner D.H. Overmyer — in the 1960s and through the numerous ownership changes since.

Sinclair, which owns or operates 173 television stations in about 80 U.S. markets, bought WNWO from Barrington Broadcasting Corp. in 2013. The purchase of WNWO was part of a $370 million deal that included the sale of 17 other stations and for Sinclair to operate or provide sales services to six additional stations.

Contact Kirk Baird at kbaird@theblade.com or 419-724-6734.

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