“In terms of what you saw on the noon news and how we operate in general at WBAL, it all comes down to resources,” said Dan Joerres, general manager of the Hearst-owned station. “We choose to staff heavily so that we can cover whatever news there is at any one time. We had those Sailabration plans going on for months. ... But we also had Jayne Miller following the Julius Henson trial all the way.”
Joerres, who came to Baltimore last year from a Hearst-owned station in North Carolina in the nation’s 46th-largest market, believes his station’s battle with CBS-owned WJZ demands that kind of coverage.
“Our key mission is to be the local source of news,” he says. “And in such a great competitive television market when you have two top stations competing against each other, it gives viewers good, solid choices, and it gives people the chance to get information when and where they need it on their terms.”
Baltimore is, of course, a four-station news market, with WBFF, the Sinclair-owned Fox affiliate, and WMAR, the Scripps-owned ABC affiliate, in the mix. Neither has the newsroom resources or the overall ratings of WJZ or WBAL, but they do compete in several key news periods, particularly WBFF.
“Just being in this region itself, we realize there’s a comparison of us to stations in Philadelphia or New York,” says WMAR General Manager Bill Hooper, explaining the importance of location in the kind of TV news viewers see here. “I think the whole market holds itself to being on that level of a Mid-Atlantic, major news station.”
Plus, they compete with D.C. stations for viewers south of Baltimore.
“We can’t be a JV news department while the Washington stations have varsity news departments,” Hooper says, “if we expect to win those homes in Howard County or Anne Arundel County.”
Placing Baltimore on a list that includes Louisville, Ky., Indianapolis and Columbus, Ohio, Hofstra’s Papper says, “You have really good TV news there — not necessarily at every station, but some stations in those cities are doing really good TV news.”
And “really good news coverage,” he says, “is not about the slickest presentation skills. It’s about, at the end of the newscast, did you learn what’s important to the people in the community? Did you learn what’s going on and what matters in Baltimore that day?”