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Local News Close-Up: News Reboots in Sunny San Diego

(From l.): Marcella Lee, Carlo Cecchetto, Karlene Chavis and Jesse Pagan of KFMB, known in San Diego as CBS 8.
(From l.): Marcella Lee, Carlo Cecchetto, Karlene Chavis and Jesse Pagan of KFMB, known in San Diego as CBS 8. (Image credit: KFMB)

San Diego might be the most picturesque market in America, but there’s plenty of news behind the postcard-perfect beach sunsets. Housing and cost of living are persistent issues in the growing market. 

Even the weather is a bigger story in San Diego than one might imagine. “People think the typical weather is 72 and sunny, but there are a lot of different microclimates in San Diego,” said Alberto Mier y Teran, president and general manager, KFMB. Between the High Desert, coast, mountains and valleys, he said, “it can be very different temperatures and people don’t realize that.”

KFMB, a CBS station Tegna acquired from Midwest Television in 2018, is a beast in DMA No. 27. KFMB has The CW on its dot-two. NBCUniversal-owned KNSD is boosting its profile; NBCU also owns Telemundo-aligned KUAN. Nexstar Media Group has Fox affiliate KSWB and Scripps holds ABC station KGTV. Entravision has Univision affiliate KBNT. McKinnon Broadcasting owns independent KUSI. 

Also: Read More Local News Close-Up Coverage Here

Cox Communications is the primary cable operator. San Diego shifted from Nielsen DMA No. 29 to 27 from 2020 to 2021. Hispanics represented 34% of San Diego County, according to the 2020 Census, and the Asian population is growing too. 

Tegna’s acquisition has been positive for KFMB. “They have such a strong, strong emphasis on journalism, and it was a really good fit,” said Mier y Teran. 

In April, KFMB had the top household score at 6-7 a.m., and KNSD was tops in the 25-54 demo. At 5 p.m. KFMB won households, and KNSD again won the demo, a tight race. KFMB grabbed the 6 p.m. households crown and shared the 25-54 win with KGTV and KNSD. At 11 p.m., KFMB had a 1.7 household score and 0.3 in the demo. KNSD was at 1.1 and 0.3. Indie KUSI scored a 1.0 and a 0.2. KGTV had a 0.8 and 0.2 and KSWB a 0.4 and 0.2. (KSWB does 10 p.m. news too.)

Among Spanish-language competitors at 11, KBNT had a 0.9 in households in April and 0.6 in the demo, while KUAN had a 0.6 and 0.3. 

KFMB cranks out 11 hours of news a day. Mier y Teran mentioned the station’s “commitment to journalism,” made stronger by Tegna’s fact-checking platform Verify. “We are the station that, when people look at news, they find us to be a very credible source,” he said. 

Longtime anchor Barbara Lee-Edwards retired in October due to health issues. Marcella Lee was promoted to CBS 8 evenings. 

The major news players in San Diego share a helicopter. Most are based in the Kearny Mesa neighborhood.

More Enterprising Stuff

Todd Mokhtari, KNSD-KUAN president and general manager, is shifting to the GM job at KNBC-KVEA Los Angeles, also part of NBCUniversal. Before taking the top spot at KNSD-KUAN, Mokhtari was VP of news at KNBC. 

Mark Mullen (l.) and Catherine Garcia of NBCU-owned KNSD.

Mark Mullen (l.) and Catherine Garcia of NBCU-owned KNSD. (Image credit: KNSD)

He spoke with B+C Multichannel News before his move was announced. KNSD reformatted its late news, he said, to deliver more enterprising reports. “There’s no focus on story count,” he said. “We take a story and answer all the unanswered questions until we are done.”

There is less crime in the NBC 7 newscasts than there used to be. “We said, let’s put on something where people check in and get everything they need to know, not so much stories we don’t follow up on the next day,” Mokhtari said.

Greg Dawson is news director at KNSD and Mike Gaytan heads up the newsroom at KUAN. NBC 7 has a Responds unit focused on consumer issues, while KUAN has Responde.  

San Diego news veterans are not surprised to see Mokhtari move up to DMA No. 2. “Good things happen to good people,” said one GM. 

Local News, Sports Is KSWB’s Bread and Butter

KSWB’s morning news features (from l.) Kristina Audencial, Aric Richards, Chrissy Russo, Raoul Martinez and Shally Zomorodi.

(Image credit: KSWB)

KSWB’s local output is booming. The station offers a stunning 64½ hours a week of local news, VP and general manager Scott Heath said, including a 4:30-10 a.m. morning show.

“We continue to launch and grow news,” he said, noting the increased cost of syndicated programming. “I continually look for nooks and crannies to watch our news.”

Rich Goldner, formerly of KTLA Los Angeles, runs the newsroom. Besides the traditional news slots, Nexstar Media Group-owned KSWB offers 1 p.m., 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. newscasts. 

Heath described the Fox 5 news set as being “in the round,” with a round anchor desk for greater depth of field. There’s a kitchen for cooking segments and lots of graphics. The competition, he said, “is two talking heads with squares over their shoulders.”

KSWB’s local content includes sports, and a lot of it. There’s minor league hockey, professional lacrosse, pro rugby and local soccer. “They bring us new viewers,” said Heath, “would-be hockey moms and soccer moms and rugby moms.”

Local advertisers perhaps cannot afford the network sports broadcasts, he said, but they can probably swing a San Diego Gulls hockey game. “Local advertisers are looking for hyper-local sports,” he said. — MM

KGTV produces 44 hours of news a week, and is also rethinking news, with a focus on meatier content. Leon Clark, VP and general manager, noted parent Scripps’s roots in serious journalism. “We are reimagining how we do our news,” said Clark. “We are doing more in-depth stories than we’d done before. We have research that shows that viewers will watch longer stories if they are compelling.”

KGTV’s anchors are active newsgatherers in the field, Clark added. “At the end of the day, anchors are journalists as well,” he said. 

San Diego is a market full of lively neighborhoods, ranging from Pacific Beach to Encinitas to Spring Valley. Clark mentioned KGTV’s efforts to be street level at times other than when crimes occur in one of the communities. “There’s a passion for the respective communities that you don’t see anywhere else,” he said of the market. “There’s a Main Street in every community and they want us to know about it.” 

KSWB has been growing its local content at a steady pace [see sidebar]. A 7 p.m. newscast was added in 2020, and it was extended to an hour last year. “People said, there’s no news at 7 and 7:30,” said Scott Heath, KSWB VP/general manager. “Now there’s news. It has done well and it has met our expectations.”

KSWB lifestyle show The Localist SD, with pay-to-play vendors, premiered January 24. “It has just skyrocketed,” Heath said. 

KUSI has “San Diego’s More Local News Station” branding and conducts consumer reports under an “It Ain’t Right” tagline. 

Economic Issues

The San Diego economy could use a boost. The automotive category has long suffered from supply-chain issues. “They just don’t have units to sell,” Heath said. 

COVID-19 has hampered tourism. Political spending, including sports betting on the ballot, looks promising. National advertising is down, the GMs said, but local is up. 

“Ask any general manager here in the market right now, and they’ll tell you it’s a little challenging,” said Clark. “But we’re working through it.”

Asked what they like about San Diego, the general managers spoke of the gorgeous weather, of course. They also mentioned how a diverse population enhances the quality of life. “I love seeing different types of people,” said Mier y Teran, who grew up in the market, “and culture and food and art.”  ■

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.