AIR CHECK BY DIANA MARSZALEK

Fox Takes Different Tack To Local News In NC

Fox Television Stations is using its newly acquired O&O in Charlotte, N.C., WJZY, to launch its second unconventional newscast. My Fox Carolinas News @10 is informal with no highly stylized set or anchor desk, reflections of Fox Television Stations President Jack Abernethy’s determination to come up with some new approaches to local news.

In the spirit of its Chasing New Jersey — although in a decidedly slower Southern style — Fox has launched a second unconventional, young-skewing newscast, this time on its newly acquired O&O in Charlotte, N.C.

Fox built the 10 p.m. newscast that has been airing on WJZY in the country’s 25th largest market since Jan. 1 from the ground up, as the former CW affiliate did not produce news before Fox bought the station, along with MNT affiliate WMYT, from Capitol Broadcasting for $18 million last year.

My Fox Carolinas News @10 is informal with no highly stylized set or anchor desk.

Instead, the “senior digital journalist” — elsewhere known as an anchor — orchestrates the newscast by walking around the newsroom, stopping by reporters who tell their stories or tease upcoming ones. Sometimes they stand together; sometimes, the reporter sits at his or her desk.

Weather reports emanate from the heart of the newsroom, with the weathercaster standing in front of a large, free-standing screen. The segments are so full of odd camera angles that viewers cannot always see the weather graphics.

Mark Washburn, the Charlotte Observer’s media critic, calls My Fox Carolinas “cocktail party news,” primarily because of its casual, chatty nature. Last Friday, the newscast featured two women discussing their plans for the weekend — a way to highlight Charlotte-area events. In another, a reporter tried dinner and drinks at a new restaurant.

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Neither Fox group nor station execs will talk about the nitty-gritty of My Fox Carolinas until it gets its legs. A spokeswoman says they could be ready for that conversation in a week or two.

But even in its earliest incarnation, it’s clear that it reflects Fox Television Stations President Jack Abernethy’s determination to come up with some new approaches to local news.

Speaking at TVNewsCheck’s NewsTECHForum in December, Abernethy said Charlotte provides the rare opportunity to start from scratch. “When you’re not being held by an existing show, it’s much easier to do things differently.”

About two-thirds of new hires for My Fox Carolinas News haven’t done TV before “so there’s no bad habits to break,” he said.

The WJZY news department is incorporating  new technologies that allow for non-traditional options, such as software that gathers news from Facebook and Twitter from other Fox stations, and camcorders with direct links to cell networks and Wi-Fi for feeding live video.

The station will have a microwave truck “just because everyone’s afraid we might need one,” Abernethy said.

The station is also mixing things up in terms of staffers’ titles, a move Abernethy said reflects the belief that “labels put people in established roles.” Rather than hiring a “news director,” Fox named Geoff Roth “VP of local content” for both WJZY and WMYT, which may air news in the future as well. Cheryl Brayboy is the roaming senior digital journalist.

Like Chasing New Jersey — the TMZ-style news program that garnered a buzz when it launched on WWOR New York last JulyMy Fox Carolinas wants  to appeal to young viewers that typically shun traditional local news, but perhaps not as relentlessly as Chasing New Jersey.

The North Carolina newscast is more conservative than the New Jersey show, which features a team of young, casually clad news “chasers” corralled by “ringleader” Bill Spadea.

My Fox Carolinas News is less frenetic, mixing in some of the more traditional elements of storytelling. Weekend coverage, for example, included a story from Charlotte’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade, and a sports roundup of college hoops.

Last week, My Fox Carolinas’ Ned Hibbert appeared on camera in a sweater in jeans — hands in pockets and all — to discuss his story on a North Carolina man’s push for a Desert Storm Memorial. Hibbert had on reading glasses to boot, something a “chaser” would not be seen in. (Watch the story here.)

According to Washburn, My Fox Carolinas has differentiated itself  editorially by “not just doing the liquor store robberies which transfix the other stations in town. They don’t follow the pack.”

To succeed, My Fox Carolinas will have to overcome some tough competition. Existing 10 p.m. newscasts on the Cox-owned independent WAXN, which is produced by its sister station, the ABC affiliate WSOC, and on Bahakel Communications’ CW affiliate WCCB, both have loyal — and, according to November sweeps, growing — followings. WCCB was Charlotte’s Fox affiliate until Fox bought WJZY.

The newscast on WAXN is “very highly researched,” Washburn says. “People like police scanner news and they do it very, very well,” he says. “They are the strongest breaking news station in town and that’s their thing.”

WCCB’s 10 p.m. viewers are also relatively steadfast, he says. With strong on-air personalities, it has managed to keep two-thirds of its audience after losing its Fox affiliation and lead-ins, he says.

Julie Szulczewski, news director of the two Cox stations, says she’s not concerned about having a new player in the market. “We are just sticking with our plan. We follow our research and do what our viewers want.”

And if My Fox Carolinas News is piquing her viewers’ interest, Szulczewski says she has heard nothing about it in “the big chunk of viewer email” she gets. “It’s just a different format and a different strategy,” Szulczewski says. “I think it’s good to shake up the marketplace a bit.”

Read other Air Check columns here. You can send suggestions for future Air Checks to Diana Marszalek at [email protected].


Comments (4)

Leave a Reply

brooks chretien says:

January 21, 2014 at 12:42 pm

I suspect it’ll be as accurate as what one can overhear at a cocktail party too, judging from the former O&O news I’ve seen before…

Michael Castengera says:

January 21, 2014 at 4:14 pm

I hope WCCB’s news stays afloat, but they have only just started the ratings slide that the change to CW will bring them.

Angie McClimon says:

January 21, 2014 at 4:55 pm

All Fox O&O newscasts are identical: simply a local variation on FNC.

Matthew Castonguay says:

January 21, 2014 at 5:23 pm

TVMN…seriously, if that’s true (which it clearly isn’t – you’ve seen them all, I suppose?), then I guess their Charlotte newscast must be very different than FNC (because it’s very different than the other O&O newscasts). But logic isn’t your strong suit so you may not get it. Wish TVNewsCheck would work harder to block trolls.


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