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Local News: Start Spreading the News, and There’s Lots of It

WABC New York's Eyewitness News This Morning team
Market leader WABC’s ‘Eyewitness News This Morning’ team (l. to r.): Traffic reporter Heather O’Rourke, anchors Ken Rosato and Shirleen Allicot, and meteorologist Sam Champion. (Image credit: WABC)

The nation’s largest DMA, and almost certainly its busiest, is getting back up to speed after the pandemic had New Yorkers shut in. Broadway’s theaters are open, tourists are flocking to see the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree and offices are reopening. While everyone awaits the next phase of COVID-19, the streets are getting crowded. 

New York news gatherers welcome the revivification. “There’s always something happening in New York,” WNBC VP of news Amy Morris said, “and there’s a New York connection to any story in the nation.”

Disney’s ABC Owned Television Stations holds WABC. CBS Stations has WCBS-WLNY. NBCUniversal Local owns WNBC and Telemundo station WNJU. Fox has WNYW and MyNetworkTV station WWOR. Mission Broadcasting owns The CW affiliate WPIX and Nexstar Media Group operates it. Univision has WXTV. 

Spectrum News NY1, which turns 30 next fall, is owned by the cable operator. In November, NY1 launched weekday newscast News All Day in the noon slot, anchored by Ruschell Boone, with News All Day updates at the top and bottom of the hour through 4 p.m. 

Besides Spectrum, Optimum and Verizon Fios TV are other pay TV options. 

ABC7 Leads the Way

WABC, known locally as ABC7, is the team to beat. With an Eyewitness News brand, the station won the 6 a.m. race in November. WABC won 5 and 6 p.m. in households and viewers 25-54, and scored a 3.8 in 11 p.m. households and a 1.5 in 25-54. WCBS got a 2.9 and 0.8 at 11, WNBC a 2.3/0.9, WXTV a 1.7/1.1 and WNJU a 1.6/0.9. WNYW and WPIX have news at 10 to 11 p.m. 

Chad Matthews, who was WABC news director, was named president and general manager in February, with Debra OConnell moving up to president of networks for Disney Media & Entertainment Distribution. Rehan Aslam came on as WABC VP of news in April. 

Matthews is off to a strong start. In June, WABC pulled off an in-person mayoral debate. The plan was for a virtual debate amidst COVID concerns, and the call to go in person came about a week before the eight-candidate event. “The team did a really, really great job,” said Matthews. 

As with all the ABC-owned stations, WABC features a data journalism team to give stories extra heft, and a race and culture reporter finds neighborhood stories a general assignment reporter may miss. 

“WABC just looks and feels like our market, more than our competitors,” Matthews said. “I think our viewers see that as well.”

WNBC launched a 7 p.m. news in June [see sidebar].”I don’t think anybody is doing a truly local anything at 7 p.m., even on the cable side,” said Eric Lerner, WNBC president and general manager. “We saw an opportunity.”

In April, WNBC debuted a 10-minute weekday OTT newscast called News 4 Now. Views exploded when the Gabby Petito case took off in September, according to Benjamin Berkowitz, VP, digital, WNBC and WNJU. It’s for viewers “who want to engage with our brands, but they don’t have 30 minutes to sit on the couch at 6 o’clock,” he said. 

WNJU (Telemundo 47) offers early morning, midday, early evening and late news. Cristina Schwarz, president and general manager, said the station appears to be set for news, but non-linear product launches may be coming.

Fox 5 Makes People Moves

Over at WNYW, known as Fox 5, Bianca Peters shifted from Good Day Wake Up to Good Day New York, airing 7 to 10 a.m., November 1, alongside Rosanna Scotto. “She played herself into that position,” said Lew Leone, WNYW-WWOR senior VP and general manager. “When you hire someone from outside, you never really know if there’s chemistry.”

Lori Stokes left the morning show to anchor evenings and 10 p.m. in June, when Dari Alexander departed. Dan Bowens slid in as Good Day Wake Up anchor.

WNYW launched The Vault, a digital initiative that offers historic news videos on demand. Byron Harmon, VP of news, referred to it as “a Netflix of news.”

WNBC’s 7 P.M. NEWS TURNS SIX MONTHS OLD

Janice Huff, David Ushery and Natalie Pasquarella of WNBC News 4 New York at 7

(Image credit: WNBC)

WNBC’s 7 p.m. news hit the six-month mark Dec. 7. David Ushery and Natalie Pasquarella anchor. Janice Huff handles weather and Bruce Beck covers sports. Amy Morris, WNBC VP of news, called the newscast “a huge success.” The biggest challenge in launching a newscast, she said, is making it different and interesting. She believes News 4 New York at 7 has accomplished both. 
“It’s not a repeat,” she said. “It has enterprise stories in there that you don’t see on other newscasts.”
News 4 New York at 7 pushed Access Hollywood to 7:30. It is up against ratings beast Jeopardy! on WABC, but has moved up to No. 2 in the slot, from No. 3. Viewership has grown double digits since the newscast began. 
Station managers saw a heightened interest in news amidst the pandemic, but Morris said plans were afoot for 7 p.m. before COVID. 
Eric Lerner, WNBC president and general manager, said the 7 p.m. newscast goes longer on key stories. “We do give more time to expand at 7 p.m. that we might not earlier,” he said, giving the example of a COVID story featuring an in-depth interview with a doctor holding key information. “We’ll let it breathe.” — MM

Last month, Morgan McKay joined WNYW from NY1 to cover politics. “No one produces the amount of content or the varied amount of content that we do,” said Harmon.  

Johnny Green Jr. was named president and general manager of WCBS-WLNY in July, succeeding Peter Dunn, who was also president of CBS Television Stations. Green had been WCBS interim news director and VP of news services at CBS News. He noted that CBS2 now has a general manager focused only on the station, not the group. “We’re targeting more coverage and wider communities that we may not have touched before,” he said. “It’s time to give certain issues that are more important more time.”

Sarah Burke came on as WCBS VP and news director in late September, joining from WLS Chicago. WCBS is looking to hire a producer the group calls executive producer, Impacting Communities in early 2022. 

The station occasionally dedicates the 5:30 p.m. news to a lone topic. Mental health and suicide prevention took over the newscast one day in July. “It didn’t feel like it needed to be cut down,” Green said. “We ran it in its entirety.”

Social justice and COVID also got dedicated 5:30 newscasts. 

WXTV (Univision 41) offers morning, midday, early evening and late news on weekdays, and 6 and 11 p.m. on weekends. Univision New York president/general manager Roberto Yanez oversees two TV stations and three radio stations. “We’re providing news around the clock,” he said. “We’re on TV, we’re on radio, we’re on digital.”

In April, WXTV announced Sabados Con Los New York Giants, hosted by former Giant Victor Cruz and WXTV’s Damaris Diaz. The weekly show is designed to bring  football — “not fútbol,” or soccer, said Yanez — to Hispanic viewers who may not follow the game. 

“It has been very well-received by our community,” he added. 

New York stations are hustling to get ahead in the busy market. WNBC and WNJU are moving in together. WNBC is in Rockefeller Center and WNJU in Fort Lee, New Jersey. They will share the second floor of 30 Rockefeller Center starting in fall 2023, with the massive workspace extending from 49th Street to 50th Street.

It represents the final duopoly in the NBC group to co-locate. “We are excited about the collaboration that will happen between departments and department heads,” said Schwarz, who noted that WNJU will maintain a presence in New Jersey. “I’m excited to be next to Eric every day.” 

Lerner mentioned a “gorgeous, state-of-the-art, open news operation. It’s two television stations coming together in a way that we’ve never been able to before. Both stations really deserve a new home.” 

Business Is Reviving

General managers said business is picking up as New York gets back on its feet. Vaccination spots are all over the air. “It’s been a huge source of revenue for the marketplace,” said Leone, who added that sports gambling is also boosting revenue. 

New York attracts the finest news gatherers in America, and it makes for a hot news scene. “All the stations in town have really strong journalists,” said Morris, “and do strong journalism.”

Johnny Green’s newsroom days are behind him, but he still sees things from a news perspective on occasion. For reporters anywhere, “there’s always the element of something new every day,” he said. In New York, “that something new every day may just be down the street.” ■