AIR CHECK BY DIANA MARSZALEK

Weigel Makes Bold News Move In South Bend

Contrary to what might be expected in these recessionary times, the group owner is investing money in people and infrastructure to create a news department that will provide on-air, online and mobile programming for its three Indiana stations.

At a time when other broadcasters are downsizing or consolidating newsrooms, Weigel Broadcasting is pouring “many millions” into building a multiplatform news operation in the already competitive South Bend, Ind., market (DMA 91), where it owns three TV stations.

While over the past 15 years Weigel has invested n heavily in the infrastructure of the network-affiliated stations — WBND (ABC), WCWW-LP (CW) and WMYS-LP (MNT) — none produces a full newscast, although WBND airs a five-minute daily roundup at 11 p.m.

That will change next spring, says Weigel’s Neal Sabin. “We just think that starting a new business and increasing our involvement in the community is the right thing to do in the right place.”

“We have always been a little contrarian,” says Sabin. “We look at this recessionary period in our economy as an opportunity to expand our business and to keep people employed.”

Weigel, which also owns stations in Chicago and Milwaukee, has already hired veteran news manager Aaron Ramey to oversee the endeavor.

Next steps include hiring at least 25 staffers, turning a newly purchased building into a 21st century news studio (fully HD capable) that can produce content for broadcast, online and mobile applications and compete against three other stations: Gray Television’s WNDU (NBC), Schurz Communication’s WSBT (CBS) and Quincy Newspaper’s WSJV (Fox).

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“It’s interesting that they would start from scratch, especially in this day and age,” says C.J. Beutien, the news director at WNDU.

Things simply aren’t that flush at WNDU, he says, where news staff has taken on significantly more work and he has to lobby corporate to replace staffers who leave. “The question is how many times the pie can be cut and how many pieces they will need to win.”

Still months away from air, neither Sabin nor Ramey would share the details of how exactly they plan to grab a piece of that pie.

They did, however, say they are trying create an operation and programming that are in sync with the way people are now consuming news.

“We are not anchored to the past and we have no preconceived notions,” Ramey says.  “We have no bad habits to break.”

Creating lively online and mobile presences are part of that process, they say. So is establishing a relatively large news team that will provide a range of content from the field — some traditional, some not.

“What that morphs into is limited only by our imagination,” Ramey says.

“We realize that we cannot come into the market and do the same things as our competitors who have been in the market for 50-plus years.”

Though the first phase of the launch is focused on airing newscasts in traditional time slots on WBND, the ABC affiliate, “the options are almost endless from there,” he says.

By next summer, news could be expanded to non-traditional time slots on the other two stations, which also could be used for special news coverage, like severe weather, he says.

Weigel’s move in South Bend echos what the company did in Milwaukee about 15 years ago, when it significantly upgraded the facilities of WDJT, its CBS affiliate, and created a news department.

Gaining a foothold as Milwaukee’s fourth news provider “has been a long process,” Sabin says. “It was not profitable from day one, but it was the kind of thing the company committed to and was invested in.”

While it could be a relatively long haul in South Bend as well, Sabin says Weigel wouldn’t be taking the plunge if it didn’t believe there would be a payoff.

“We have to think that people will appreciate that someone is paying attention to their market and is expanding versus contracting,” he said.

 


Air Check by Diana Marszalek is a bi-monthy column about local TV news and the people that make it happen. Marszalek can be reached at [email protected]. For other Air Check stories, click here.


Comments (2)

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E B says:

November 30, 2010 at 11:01 am

My lord, what a pile of whipping cream on top of horse manure.

This outfit has been number four in a three-station horse race for eons. It merely has to build a new master control and newsroom to get such fluffy coverage?

Diana, there is no context in this article. WNDU is recognized for its market dominance in South Bend, for both the width and breadth of its news coverage. Fluffy promises of some sort of new age mantras is OK for station promos. But not serious coverage.

” Trying create an operation and programming that are in sync with the way people are now consuming news”? “Not anchored to the past and we have no preconceived notions?”

In other words, either (a) they have no real plan at all, or (b) have a plan and are too disrespectful of the reader (and the author) to share this brilliance with TV Newscheck. My bet is (a).

Monica Patterson says:

November 30, 2010 at 2:22 pm

Wow. A pile of fluff is right. But ZumaHans and the article author Diana miss the mark thereafter. WNDU is not the dominant news station in South Bend (and has not been since 2006) and even parent Gray Comm acknowledges as much in their quarterly investor call. WSBT is.
I suspect Weigel is investing in news in order to satisfy ABC, which most likely insisted on it as part of the affiliation renewal process.
This will be fun to watch. If you build it they won’t necessarily come.


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