Local News Close-Up: Capital Improvements in D.C.
Washington stations cover Commanders sale, along with the usual blockbuster Beltway news
Politics isn’t the only giant news story in our nation’s capital. In recent days, the newsrooms were all over the $6 billion sale of the NFL’s Washington Commanders. It’s been a bleak period for the D.C. sports teams, including the underperforming Commanders, Nationals, Capitals and Wizards, but the locals hope the new Commanders owner will shake things up for the better.
“Maybe the sale will reinvigorate the Commanders,” said Patrick Paolini, WTTG-WDCA senior VP/general manager. “Having a strong NFL team in the market certainly helps.”
Also Read: Check Out Our Local News Close-Up Profiles on Dozens of U.S. Markets
Besides covering the news, the D.C. stations are making some news. NBC station WRC and Telemundo sister WZDC debuted new studios in March. The stations’ building in the Upper Northwest neighborhood is being renovated, which sees staffers moving around a bit until their end of the edifice is completed. The project should be completed by next spring.
“We like to say we’re changing the tires as we’re rolling down the road,” Jackie Bradford, WRC-WZDC president and general manager, said.
In September, WTTG launched LION Lunch Hour in the 11 a.m. slot. A spinoff of Like It Or Not (LION), the weekday show features a chef cooking a meal, and the hosts, Marissa Mitchell and Erin Como, discussing the issues of the day while sampling the victuals. “It’s trending topics and different issues around food,” said Paolini. “It is authentic and fun, and it has exceeded expectations.”
WJLA, for its part, celebrates 75 years on the air in the fall. The station has a new partnership with WTOP, providing weather to the D.C. news radio powerhouse every 10 minutes. “It’s a great opportunity for us to enhance our brand,” said Todd Bernstein, WJLA VP and general manager.
NBCUniversal Local owns WRC and WZDC. Fox Television Stations holds WTTG and MyNetworkTV station WDCA. Sinclair Broadcast Group has ABC affiliate WJLA and cable channel 24/7 News. Tegna owns CBS affiliate WUSA. Nexstar Media Group has The CW station WDCW and independent outlet WDVM. Univision owns WFDC.
Washington is Nielsen’s No. 8 market. The major pay TV operator is Comcast.
The ratings race is a hot one. In March, WRC won the 6-7 a.m. household race, according to Nielsen, and WTTG took the 25-54 contest. WRC was tops at 5 and 6 p.m. in both households and 25-54. At 11 p.m. in March, WRC averaged 53,000 households, while WTTG had 29,000, WUSA scored 28,000 and WJLA had 22,000. In the 25-54 race at 11, WTTG scored 17,000, WRC had 16,000, and both WJLA and WUSA had 9,000.
Known as News4, WRC thrives on capital J journalism, anchors with local roots and a robust investigative team. “We have people with really strong ties to Washington, D.C.,” said Bradford. “We continue to do strong journalism day in and day out.”
WRC has had major changes in the anchor team. Wendy Rieger died of cancer a year ago, Doreen Gentzler retired in November and Pat Lawson Muse retired in March, wrapping up 40 years at WRC. Shawn Yancy arrived at WRC after a long run at WTTG and Tony Perkins, a veteran of WTTG and Good Morning America, joined the station earlier this year.
LION Lunch Hour isn’t the only new show on WTTG, known as Fox 5. DMV Zone, a cross between TMZ and a newscast, according to Paolini, launched in October, and holds down the 3-4 p.m. weekday slot. DMV is short for D.C,., Maryland and Virginia.
Paolini mentioned nearly 90 hours a week of original programming, including an 8 p.m. news, among other newscasts, on WDCA, known as Fox 5 Plus.
“There are very few gaps where we are not producing original content,” he said.
Paolini hosts the weekly podcast The Paolini Perspective, with Sarah Fraser his co-host, as they break down the major issues of the week. In the fall, Fox 5 debuts a digital-only newscast at 1-3 p.m.
Shomari Stone, formerly a correspondent at The News with Shepard Smith, joins Fox 5 as a reporter and anchor May 1.
Bernstein was named WJLA general manager in January. He’s been at the station over 18 years, in sales leadership positions and then as station manager, before his latest promotion.
WJLA has a 7 News On Your Side branding and swears by the motto. “We aim to hold people, both consumers and those in the government, accountable,” Bernstein said. “We live and breathe this brand.”
Veronica Johnson was named chief meteorologist in December. She’s the first woman to hold the position at WJLA.
Last fall, lifestyle show Good Morning Washington shifted from Sinclair’s 24/7 News to WJLA. “It has become a fixture in our lineup,” Bernstein said.
Richard Dyer is WUSA president and general manager. It’s the fourth stint at the station for the Washington native, who initially joined WJLA as an account executive back in 1983.
WDCW Washington and WDVM in Hagerstown (MD) brand themselves as DC News Now, and Ben Dobson is news director. Both stations operate from a DC newsroom that opened last year, with bureaus around the market. In July 2022, WDCW launched a nightly 10 p.m. newscast. Also in July, WDVM launched a weekday 9 p.m. newscast, expanded its morning news another hour, and added a sports highlight show at 11 p.m.
Noticias on Multiple Platforms
Both WZDC and WFDC offer Spanish-language news at 5, 6 and 11 p.m. Washington’s Telemundo station has T44 on Top at 5:30 p.m. on linear, and streaming on OTT platforms. “We’re always looking at the best way to tell our journalism stories in new forms and formats,” Vince Lattanzio, director of digital media, WRC-WZDC, said. “Streaming is the future for our business.”
WRC and WZDC share a newsroom and an assignment desk. “Having a Telemundo station has become a differentiator,” Matt Glassman, assistant news director, said. “We have access to stories we wouldn’t have had before.”
The station leaders said Washington’s economic footing is solid, and ad categories, including auto and tourism, are picking back up. As the pandemic dominated news stories and conversations in recent years, and politics continues to relentlessly pop up in both, Paolini believes the nation’s media epicenter has shifted from New York down to D.C. “I firmly believe D.C. is the media capital of the world and certainly the media capital of the United States,” he said.
The D.C. station chiefs mentioned a smart and engaged audience in and around the District that eagerly consumes news. Washington is unique in that it features stories that are street-level, national and even global. “Doing local news in Washington, D.C., is the best of both worlds,” Bradford said. “What is local here is national.”
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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.