WMAR-TV, `Sun' set to work together

Media: Deal will put newspaper reporters on the air during Channel 2 newscasts.

February 06, 2002|By David Folkenflik | David Folkenflik,SUN TELEVISION WRITER

The Sun is poised to enter a sweeping alliance with Baltimore television station WMAR that would begin to integrate the newspaper's reporting into the station's newscasts and also set the stage for joint advertising and promotional efforts.

In a deal expected to be announced soon, Sun reporters would appear regularly on Channel 2's news shows, with The Sun's logo readily visible. In addition, the two media outlets are planning to swap advertising, with time on the air traded for ad space inside the newspaper. They are likely to create projects allowing sponsors to purchase advertising for both media. Down the line, they could co-operate in the reporting of some stories.

While senior officials at the two institutions declined to comment yesterday, several people in the local media industry described the broad outlines of the deal on condition they not be identified.

No money is to change hands in the deal, but both sides believe they can prosper from the relationship. For The Sun, the partnership is intended to help cement the paper's reputation as an authoritative source of news, whether in print or on the air. WMAR's interest in the collaboration, meanwhile, is two-fold: to take advantage of the newspaper's journalistic resources and to try to boost its ratings.

WMAR, an ABC affiliate, has struggled lately, as its local newscasts and network lineup have attracted diminishing ratings. Its 11 p.m. newscast comes in third in the city and often draws fewer viewers than Fox affiliate WBFF does at 10 p.m.

In response to these pressures, WMAR recently replaced longtime lead anchor Stan Stovall with Brian Wood, a reporter and anchor from Seattle; several other WMAR journalists also have been fired in recent months. According to people at the station, the alliance with The Sun could help the station establish a clearer identity as it competes with market leaders WBAL-TV (Channel 11) and WJZ (Channel 13).

As The Sun has nearly 400 journalists, reporters have time to develop expertise in specialized beats such as business, medicine, the environment, education and the arts. The paper also has a bureau in Washington, several national correspondents and five foreign bureaus that could offer material for broadcast on WMAR.

"In new times, you have to look for new ways," said Norm Lewis, chief weather forecaster for WMAR.

TV union agreement

To pave the way for the deal, station officials had to negotiate concessions from the union representing television journalists to allow newspaper reporters to appear during newscasts. But, out of fears that the station's reporters could be made obsolete, no newspaper reporter is to be the primary correspondent on most traditionally constructed television news pieces, according to people knowledgeable about the situation.

The WMAR-Sun arrangement is considered unlikely to yield major financial returns in the near future or any appreciable rise in circulation for the newspaper. Rather, according to those familiar with the strategy, the pact would help reinforce the paper's image with viewers who might not be traditional readers of The Sun, which approached local stations about the idea last year.

"It's getting stories to the reader through an alternate vehicle," said Marti Buscaglia, until recently the vice president of marketing and communications for The Sun. "The printed paper is just one method of reaching people." On Monday, Buscaglia became publisher of the News-Tribune in Duluth, Minn., a Knight-Ridder newspaper.

The Sun has taken several steps lately to prepare for the alliance. It has hired a new editor for electronic news who held a similar post with the Tribune Co. The Sun is also clearing out a portion of the newsroom to install a mini-studio with a permanent television camera.

Sun Editor William K. Marimow and Managing Editor Anthony F. Barbieri, who is leading the paper's multimedia effort on the news side, deferred all comment to Publisher Michael E. Waller. Waller was traveling yesterday and could be not be reached. Sun spokeswoman Carol Dreyfuss declined to comment. Drew Berry, the general manager for WMAR, also would not comment.

The emergence of the pact reflects the philosophy of the Tribune Co., The Sun's Chicago-based corporate parent, in preparing its journalists for a multimedia future.

In Chicago, reporters and critics for the Chicago Tribune appear regularly on WGN, a major station owned by Tribune, as well as the company's own regional cable news channel. In South Florida, the Tribune's Sun-Sentinel has established partnerships with major network affiliates and news radio stations in both Miami and Palm Beach.

In Palm Beach, the National Public Radio station broadcasts news programs produced entirely by the newspaper at its in-house studios. Miami CBS station WFOR often describes articles from the next morning's Sun-Sentinel on its late newscast, and the two news outlets routinely share leads on developing stories.

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