Fighting for viewers, Hoosier-style
Think of a market where four stations battle it out for news supremacy and where two of them have a helicopter and a satellite truck. You're probably not thinking Evansville, Ind.
"This is an extremely competitive news market," says Mike Riley, station manager of WEHT, the ABC affiliate. "News represents an enormous part of the total income of the station, so consequently you realize that, if you're going to survive, you have to put on a good newscast that attracts news viewers, because that's what advertisers want. So that makes you spend more money because news is like a drug: The better it gets, the more income you get from it, but the more you have to spend to sustain" that level. The helicopters and Doppler radars "are wonderful," he adds, "but unless you have the people to make them work, it's all a moot point. We've got longevity with our reporters and our anchors; they are very, very good."
Across town at NBC affiliate WFIE-TV, GM Lucy Himstedt has a news background. "Every now and then, the news part of me wants to do something," she says, so this week she's off to Terre Haute, Ind., to field-produce the station's coverage of Timothy McVeigh's execution. "We'll have crews in Terre Haute working different angles, and we'll have a crew in Oklahoma," she explains. "We're not always a believer in going to where the big story is just to go, but Terre Haute is here, it's right up the road. If it's big and it has a local connection, we're going."
The news situation is summed up by David Wells, president of Media Mix Communications, an advertising and marketing firm: "While WFIE is still pretty much dominating the late-night news, they receive a lot more competition during the earlier newscasts—5 and 6 p.m. and early morning, with WEHT a real strong contender" in the morning. "And then the Fox affiliate [WTVW] is experiencing a lot of growth with its 9 p.m. news. And though WFIE is dominating in the 10 p.m. news, its share has dwindled."