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Seattle Stations Cover Coronavirus

The Seattle TV-station newsrooms have their hands full covering the coronavirus these days. The KING website had FACTS NOT FEAR and CORONAVIRUS FULL COVERAGE atop its homepage on March 11. The KOMO site talked up a TV special on the virus at 7 p.m. that night. The KIRO homepage featured a story about a local hospital banning patient visits, while KCPQ had a report about school closings.

“We’ve had specials and dedicated newscasts related to the coronavirus,” Greg Bilte, VP and general manager at KIRO, said.

Seattle-Tacoma is DMA No. 13 and it’s a boomtown. The tech giants, including Amazon, keep well-educated, high-earning professionals flocking to the market. “Seattle has become somewhat like a mini-San Francisco,” said Kevin Walsh, general manager at KSTW. Walsh knows of what he speaks: he’s also the president and GM of CBS-owned KPIX-KBCW San Francisco.

Sinclair Broadcast Group has ABC affiliate KOMO and Univision outlet KUNS. Apollo holds CBS affiliate KIRO. Tegna has KING-KONG, the NBC-independent duopoly. Fox recently acquired KCPQ and MyNet station KZJO from Nexstar. CBS owns The CW affiliate KSTW and Ion has the Telemundo station KWPX on a subchannel. Comcast is the main pay TV operator in Seattle-Tacoma.

It is a blazing news race between KING, KOMO and KIRO. “Each daypart is neck and neck and neck,” said Jim Rose, president and GM, KING-KONG. “It is a very tight race.”

In November, KING and KOMO tied in the 6 a.m. household battle, with KIRO just behind. KING won the 25-54 derby at 6. KOMO was tops in 5 p.m. households, and just behind KING in 25-54. At 6 p.m., KOMO won households, and KING took the demos by a hair. On to 11 p.m., and KIRO was tops in Monday-Sunday households at 2.8, ahead of KING’s 2.0 and KOMO’s 1.9. KING did a 0.8 in 25-54 at 11 p.m., just ahead of KOMO’s 0.7.

KIRO has taken significant strides since news director John Laporte came on from WITI Milwaukee last May. “This has been an incredibly dramatic turnaround,” Bilte said.

Bilte said the story selection philosophy has changed, but won’t provide details. “We aim to be there for the people,” he said, “and offer answers to them.”

KING has recast its 4 p.m. newscast, which previously had more lifestyle elements. “We discovered there is a certain set of expectations when KING5 is on the air,” Rose said.

KCPQ, known as Q13, has weekday news from 4:30-10 a.m., and MyNet sister JOEtv has weekend news 7 to 11 a.m. JOEtv does 8-9 p.m. news weeknights and 9-10 p.m. every night.

Every month, the Q13 news team dedicates a week of coverage to individual communities as part of its All Local initiative. KCPQ and KZJO feature the Seattle NFL, MLS and WNBA teams.

A handful of CBS-owned CW affiliates have debuted 10 p.m. newscasts, but KSTW does not have that in the works. “We’re not going to rule it out, but we’re not there yet,” Walsh said.

The station does do daily 60-second weather and sports “vignettes,” produced in San Francisco, said Walsh.

The Seattle economy is solid, but homelessness is a persistent problem. The coronavirus remains a concern. “It is affecting local business,” Bilte said.

While they were covering the virus, the stations also had the Democratic primary to report on March 10.

Station executives here believe the news output is exceptional in Seattle. “I’m very proud of the work in this market,” Rose said. “Every purveyor of local news here does high-quality journalism.”