Local News Close-Up: Full Speed Ahead in Motor City

WDIV anchors Devin Scillian and Kimberly Gill report from Woodward Avenue in Detroit
WDIV anchors Devin Scillian and Kimberly Gill report from Woodward Avenue in Detroit. (Image credit: WDIV)

Stories about Detroit’s demise were ongoing for decades, but Motown has undeniable momentum. Detroit will host the NFL draft in 2024, and was awarded the March Madness Final Four, and men’s college hoops championship, in 2027. 

Those events mean plenty of people will see in person the improvements across the Detroit metro area, including a lively retail scene along Woodward Avenue, skating and recreating at Campus Martius Park, and the pro football, basketball/hockey, and baseball stadiums and arenas all located in the city center. 

“You see cranes in the air, you see all the work, all the investment in the city,” said Mike Murri, WXYZ VP and general manager and a Detroit native. “You can see it and you can feel it and it’s real.”

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Detroit is Nielsen’s No. 14 DMA. E.W. Scripps Co. owns ABC outlet WXYZ and independent WMYD. Graham Media Group holds NBC affiliate WDIV. Fox owns WJBK and CBS News & Stations owns WWJ, which is launching local news in January, and The CW outlet WKBD. 

Adell Broadcasting owns MyNetworkTV station WADL.

Comcast is Detroit’s primary pay TV operator. 

In 2022 through November, WJBK won 6 a.m. news in both households and the 25-54 demo. WDIV took 5 p.m. households and WJBK had a slim lead in the demo. At 6, both titles went to WDIV. WDIV had a 5.3 household score at 11, ahead of WXYZ’s 2.9 and WJBK’s 2.4, and WDIV had a 1.5 in the demo, WJBK a 1.2 and WXYZ a 0.8. 

Downtown DIV

WDIV is located in downtown Detroit while WJBK, WXYZ and WWJ are situated in suburban Southfield, which is where the WDIV transmitter is based. Bob Ellis marked one year as the WDIV VP/general manager in August, having succeeded Marla Drutz upon her retirement. He grew up in Southfield, and recalls when it was dirt roads and his grandfather did construction on the WXYZ facility. He worked at WJBK and was later news director at WDIV before taking the GM job at WJXT Jacksonville. 

WDIV’s location gives the station better access to newsmakers, Ellis said, and perhaps a higher level of energy. “The fact that we’re here, and part of that, from a coverage standpoint, but also from a neighbor standpoint, from a business standpoint — I have lots of conversations with people who own businesses in Detroit, and own buildings in Detroit, because I am here,” he said. 

Local 4 also succeeds thanks to anchor/reporter longevity, Ellis said, and a working-class mindset. “We’re kind of a blue-collar station, and I think this is a blue-collar town,” he said. 

WDIV is “leaning heavily” into streaming, Ellis noted, with 3½ hours of original programming per weekday on Local 4 Plus, including 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. news. 

The station recently launched its 4 Warn Weather brand — letting viewers know when severe weather is coming, but also when a perfect day is approaching, so they can plan accordingly.

Motor City Indeed

Schlepping out to the other stations involves taking the M-10, part of the route named Aretha Franklin Memorial Highway. When we visited in late November, rush-hour traffic was light, and cars moved at a blistering pace that even a veteran of New York’s speedy roadways could appreciate. 

“Detroiters get where they’re going,” Ellis explained.  

It was 20 years ago that the Eminem movie 8 Mile came out, the film named for the line that divides Detroit and the suburbs. WJBK is on West Nine Mile Road, about 15 minutes from downtown. On the day we visited, protestors were waving signs outside the station. It was related to contract negotiations, and Greg Easterly, WJBK VP and general manager, said he “respects the process and respects employees and their rights.”

Roop Raj and Taryn Asher are the primary anchor crew on Fox's WJBK.

Roop Raj and Taryn Asher are the primary anchor crew on Fox's WJBK. (Image credit: WJBK)

WJBK has 40-plus acres. Fox 2 succeeds thanks to “authentic, relatable on-air talent” and a “long-established brand,” said Easterly not to mention a lively lineup of local news that begins at 4 a.m. and has a Working For You brand. 

Those anchors had a bit of a shakeup, as Huel Perkins and Monica Gayle retired in late March after nearly 25 years on the air together. They got a proper send-off from their station. (opens in new tab) “It was a wonderful moment in the history of two great journalists,” said Easterly. “There are so many moments they shared on the air and off the air, and we tried to capture that.” 

Roop Raj and Taryn Asher are the new anchor team. Raj was mentored by Perkins as a boy with dreams of being an anchor. The talent transition has gone smoothly. “We haven’t really missed a beat at all,” said Easterly. 

Fox 2 introduced newscast The Noon, its name of a piece with morning show The Nine, in September. Easterly called it “Detroit-centric,” focusing on issues and people in the city itself. 

Fox Weather runs on a Fox 2 digital channel. 

WWJ-WKBD is on West Nine Mile Road too. Brian Watson is VP/general manager, and Paul Pytlowany is the news director. CBS News Detroit is scheduled to launch in January. There will be live streaming, and linear newscasts at 4, 5, 6 and 11 p.m., with morning news to premiere in the first half of 2023. 

Jeff Sversky and Shaina Humphries at WWJ Detroit

Jeff Sversky and Shaina Humphries at WWJ Detroit.  (Image credit: WWJ/CBS News & Stations)

Shaina Humphries and Jeff Skversky are the primary anchor team, and multimedia journalists will be embedded in various communities, driving Ford Broncos with editing systems on board. 

Watson and Pytlowany speak of a “working newsroom” — producers and reporters in the background, high energy, everyone hustling to get the news out. “It’s not just two anchors and a meteorologist and a polished-off set,” Watson said. “It screams Detroit. It screams how hard-working we are, how gritty we are.”

Newsgatherers from around the country are knocking on WWJ’s door. “They see what we’re building here, and they want to be a part of it,” said Pytlowany. “The word is on the street that we’re building something different, from the ground up, and people have a place, they have a voice.”

Detroit general managers said launching local news in 2023 will be challenging, but wish their new rival well. “Competition is always good for the consumer,” said Easterly, “but I’m more worried about what we do every day than what they are doing.”

WXYZ-WMYD is on West 10 Mile Road, situated next to The Word Network, which is part of Adell Broadcasting. WXYZ’s bread-and-butter is sharing beloved Detroit events with viewers, including highlights of the North American International Auto Show (opens in new tab), the Christmas tree lighting at Campus Martius Park and the classic car parade called Woodward Dream Cruise. 

WXYZ, known as Channel 7, also produced a governor debate between incumbent Gretchen Whitmer and Tudor Dixon, and offered it to other stations. Scripps outlets in Grand Rapids and Lansing grabbed the broadcast. 

The WXYZ employee garden strengthens teamwork at the station.

The WXYZ employee garden strengthens teamwork at the station.  (Image credit: Michael Malone)

WXYZ expanded its noon news to an hour in the fourth quarter. WMYD offers two hours of morning news and a 10 p.m. program too. WXYZ created a community advisory board this year, with a diverse mix of community and business leaders discussing key issues in the market. 

Murri, president of Michigan Association of Broadcasters, believes growing up in the market is an advantage for a general manager. “You’re able to have the insight,” he said. “You appreciate every community, the diversity of the people, all the different signature events the city develops.”

With a 90-acre spread, a station can have an employee garden, and Channel 7 does. Any employee who wants a plot can have one, and they grow tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and squash. Murri said the garden fits in with the “positive culture” at the station. “You have to want to be here and be all-in,” he said. “That’s how this team gets better.”

WADL, known as My38, took over the market’s MyNetworkTV affiliation in fall 2021. Comedies such as Mom and Black-ish are also on My38. Owner Kevin Adell called the affiliation “icing on the cake — it helped me attract advertisers.”

Lions and Tigers and … Nope, No Bears

Detroit is a football town. The Lions upset the Vikings December 11, and are hustling to get to .500. WJBK airs the preseason games. “The Lions are like the city — they’re fighting back,” Easterly said. 

College football is a big deal, with both Michigan and Michigan State. Detroit residents were celebrating Michigan’s defeat of rival Ohio State November 26 for days after. WXYZ has coaches shows for both the Wolverines and the Spartans. 

The economy is, like the city, fighting back. Rocket Mortgage is based downtown, and is growing. The auto giants are hustling on electric vehicle initiatives. Adell mentioned college grads moving to the city center. “Generation Z is coming in,” he said. 

Ellis saw “a different city for sure” when he came back to Detroit last year, restaurants and retail in formerly abandoned buildings. “As I drove around, I was unbelievably impressed with the progress that was made,” he said. 

Murri compares Detroit today to the one he knew as a boy. “It’s just a different city,” he said. “You can’t go downtown and not feel the energy.” ▪️

Michael Malone

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.