DETROIT — The promos are rolling for CBS News Detroit, as WWJ launches its first full-fledged local news lineup in January. “Pardon our dust,” they begin. Owned by CBS, the station has hired news gatherers, including a lineup of embedded multimedia journalists, is building out the newsroom set, and is poised to launch.
WWJ is the rare Big Four station without local news. “It’s the 14th-largest television market in the country, and the fact that there was no news really stood out glaringly to me,” Adrienne Roark, president of CBS Stations, said. “It’s a strong news market, and the opportunity to imagine this in a totally innovative way really was too hard to pass up.”
WJBK Detroit was a CBS affiliate, offering local news, until News Corp. purchased the station in 1994 and aligned it with Fox. CBS acquired an independent Detroit station that same year, which became WWJ. Known as CBS 62, WWJ has offered some news over the decades, including an 11 p.m. program produced by WKBD, and a morning newscast with help from Detroit Free Press and WWJ Radio. Neither show exists today.
WWJ VP and general manager Brian Watson pitched a full news operation
in his first one-on-one with Wendy McMahon, president and co-head of CBS News and Stations. There was interest, and McMahon wanted a detailed plan. After some back and forth, the project got the green light in late 2021.
WWJ initially aimed to launch in late 2022, but supply chain issues and the pandemic pushed back the premiere. Launching news is a massive job, but Watson said it’s gone relatively smoothly. “The excitement kind of overshadows any stress we might have,” he said.
Watson would not share the project cost or number of new hires, but suggests the headcount is comparable to the competition. “There’s not been one major piece of equipment or talent that’s been rejected” by corporate, he said.
CBS News Detroit will have a streaming-first mentality and linear newscasts at 4, 5, 6 and 11 p.m. weekdays, as well as morning news in the coming months. Paul
Pytlowany is news director. Watson and Pytlowany speak of a “working newsroom,” with reporters and producers hustling in the background of newscasts. The tone will be conversational.
Ratings points are bitterly contested in Detroit. Graham Media’s WDIV (NBC) is located downtown. Fox’s WJBK and Scripps’s WXYZ (ABC) are, like WWJ, in Southfield, a 15-20 minute drive from downtown. Stations in Southfield get dozens of acres to play with.
Multiskilled journalists will be embedded in the community they cover. There are 14 Ford Broncos, outfitted with mobile editing systems in the passenger seat, which can be accessed from the back seat. Thirteen will be in neighborhoods around Detroit and one will be in Lansing, Michigan’s capital. Reporters won’t have to visit the newsroom to produce their reports.
Input From Everybody
Pytlowany stressed that everyone will have a say in how the news comes together. “The word is out that I can come in as an entry-level news person, a producer or assignment editor, and have an equal voice with the anchor, the assistant news director or the executive producer, as to the kind of content that I want to bring,” he said. “We tell everybody, show up with your painting brush, because this thing is yet to be fully colored in.”
Shaina Humphries and Jeff Skversky will anchor at 5, 6 and 11 p.m. weekdays. Humphries is from WTXF Philadelphia and Skversky from WPVI Philadelphia. Humphries said she was drawn to the chance to be part of “something truly innovative.”
“There’s the startup aspect and the energy, and there’s a lot of that here,” she said.
Skversky did sports in Philly and jumped at the chance to be a news anchor. He was also enticed by the enthusiasm of Watson, Pytlowany and assistant news director Lisa Borich Palmer. “I could feel it coming through the phone or through Zoom, just how passionate they were about this,” he said. “It was just contagious.”
Asked about their new rival, Detroit’s other general managers say another competitor is good for their station, and ultimately good for viewers. They also believe launching a news operation in 2023 is a tall order, and note how WWJ just missed the election windfall.
“I applaud their efforts to think about how to do things differently,” said Bob
Ellis, WDIV VP, general manager.
Indeed, WWJ newscasts won’t be traditional, and they won’t be overly polished. “We’re showing the public that people are working,” Watson said. “We’re Detroiters. We’re gritty.” ▪️
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Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.