WMAR: The times they are a-changing

Noon news dropped for more a.m. fare

August 19, 2008|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,Sun reporter

For the programmers at WMAR, Channel 2, the decision was simple: Stick with its noon newscast, airing at a time when the audience is stagnant, if not falling, or be the first Baltimore station to expand its morning news program all the way to 10 o'clock.

"There's an old baseball adage, hit 'em where they ain't," WMAR news director Peggy Phillip said of Friday's announcement that the station would be dropping its low-rated noon news and adding a third hour to its morning show. "This didn't grow of thinking, 'Let's do something different with our noon news.' The question was, 'How can we expand our news programming in a smart way?' "

Beginning Sept. 8, WMAR will leave it up to its higher-rated rivals, WBAL, Channel 11, and WJZ, Channel 13, to divvy up the weekday noon news audience. Instead, the station will add an hour to Good Morning Maryland, which will air from 5 a.m. to 7 a.m. and 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. ABC's Good Morning America will continue to air from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m.

Industry analyst Bob Papper, chairman of the Department of Journalism at Hofstra University, applauded WMAR's move. Noon newscasts, he noted, have stalled ratings-wise and tend to attract a demographic of "the retired and the unemployed, with a smattering of stay-at-home moms."

By contrast, the audience for early-morning programming has been climbing steadily for years and is far more attractive to potential advertisers.

"This is an interesting move, and my guess is, it's a positive one," said Papper, whose specialties include television and radio news and audience research. "I love the idea that someone's trying something that's a little different. Trying something at 9 a.m. makes all the sense in the world."

Adds Amy Mitchell, deputy director of the Pew Institute's Project for Excellence in Journalism, "Since the network morning shows have started gaining audience ... local TV has started adding more programming."

About half the country's TV stations run noon newscasts, Papper said. And while there's no "discernible trend" away from such midday broadcasts, he said, there's not a lot of enthusiasm for them, either.

"A noon newscast has never been a big moneymaker for stations," Papper said. "You've got to run in the morning, which is the growth spot for TV news, and you've got to run in the evening, when the audience is largest. Noon news works into the schedule well, which is probably why stations are doing it. You've got people sitting around in the newsroom, on the clock, so why not use them?"

Phillip, who started at WMAR in June, said the 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. hour will be tailored to the mid-morning audience, "largely female, stay-at-home moms who are sitting down for a cup of coffee and want to catch up on what's happening in the world."

The program will also take advantage of its slightly later time period than the existing Good Morning Maryland broadcast, she said.

"It will be a little-bit-lighter newscast," she promised. "There will not be a lot of celebrity news, but if Renee Zellweger wants to come back to Baltimore and shoot another movie, she's going to be much more willing to appear on a 9 a.m. newscast that she will at 5 in the morning."

Come Sept. 8, Jamie Costello and Megan Pringle will co-anchor Good Morning Maryland, Phillip said. Kelly Swoope, who co-anchors the noon news with Costello, will co-anchor the 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. newscasts and continue her work as the station's medical reporter. Denise Dory will move from Good Morning Maryland to anchoring the weekend 6:30 p.m. and 11 p.m. newscasts.

To make way for the additional morning hour, Rachael Ray will slide into the 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. slot being vacated by The Martha Stewart Show, which will no longer be carried by WMAR.

chris.kaltenbach@baltsun.com

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