KDNL's St. Louis news blues
Sinclair's ABC affiliate jettisons local news, axes 50 jobs in nation's 22nd-largest market
By Dan Trigoboff -- Broadcasting & Cable, 10/7/2001 8:00:00 PM
Only a few weeks ago, veteran St. Louis anchor Rick Edlund points out, KDNL-TV switched from Family Feud as its 5 p.m. news lead-in to Just Shoot Me. "That's highly prophetic," says the soon-to-be-out-of-work anchor.
Edlund, a longtime market presence who left a political job a year ago to return to St. Louis airwaves on the ABC affiliate, is not alone in his dismay or disappointment. Sinclair's decision to drop the station's long-troubled five-year-old news department will put nearly 50 people out of work.
The elimination of the news operation leaves KDNL-TV the only Big Four affiliate in a top-25 market without a newscast. St. Louis is ranked 22.
ABC says it regrets Sinclair's decision, and KDNL-TV staffers predict that theirs will not be the last Sinclair news department axed. Sinclair would not comment.
It was the third major news cutback for Sinclair in less than a year. In November, the group pulled the plug on the 3-1/2-year-old news department at WTWC(TV) Tallahassee, Fla., firing nearly 40 people. Then late last year, the company cut about 10 jobs when it discontinued morning news on ABC affiliate WXLV-TV Winston-Salem, N.C.
The company points out, however, that it has launched or expanded news this year at its stations in Des Moines, Iowa, and Nashville, Tenn., and has expanded news operations in Syracuse, N.Y.; Columbus, Ohio; and Baltimore.
KDNL-TV General Manager Tom Tipton delivered the bad news on the last Friday in September after gathering about 30 people in the newsroom. He said the decision came after months of debate and could have gone the other way.
Station staffers, however, believe that the debate compromised the company's commitment to its news. The 5 o'clock edition was taken off and put back on again—partly due to ownership questions—never regaining its traction.
Regardless of the reason, UHF station KDNL-TV was never competitive with top-rated VHF NBC affiliate KSDK(TV) or CBS affiliate KMOV(TV). In both its 5 and 10 p.m. newscasts, the ABC affiliate garnered only a fraction of their ratings and only a somewhat larger fraction of the ratings at KTVI(TV), the Fox-owned station. Ratings were about on par with KPLR-TV, which has been a strong performer for The WB.
News Director Jeff Allan, who has been in the job for three years, received more than 200 supportive phone and e-mails from news executives around the country offering assistance in placing some of the suddenly displaced. "This place is plastered with job notices," he says.
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