Steady News Keeps Pa. Crews Hopping

From football to politics to single-issue enterprise, stations serve up full menu

MARKET EYE: HARRISBURG-LANCASTER-LEBANON-YORK, PA.

RECENT NEWS STORIES: Papal visit to nearby Philadelphia; budget stalemate in the statehouse; Amtrak train crash in May; battleground state in 2016 presidential election, plus competitive local races.

LOWDOWN: The rare four-hyphen market stretches 40 miles from Lancaster to capital Harrisburg and even farther from York to Lebanon in the east. Covering the vast South Central Pennsylvania region, about two hours from Philly, can be a challenge for stations but also a key to success.

STATIONS (OWNER/AFFILIATION): WGAL Lancaster (Hearst/NBC); WPMT York (Tribune/Fox); WHTM Harrisburg (Media General/ABC); WHP Harrisburg (Sinclair/CBS).

OWNER/AFFILIATION CHANGES: Sinclair Broadcast Group, after purchasing the Allbritton stations in 2014, decided to sell WHTM—rather than WHP, as originally planned—to Media General. That deal was completed in September 2014.

WGAL LANCASTER (HEARST/NBC)

WHAT’S NEW: Switched digital sub-channel to Me-TV, added 10 p.m. news.

AWARDS: 2015 Mid-Atlantic Emmy.

DID YOU KNOW? The market is the largest of 13 still doing Nielsen diaries, according to president/GM John Humphries. The market is moving to electronic measurement did dual measuring for the February, May and July sweeps. The change often hurts a dominant heritage station, with “the assumption being people don’t really watch it, they just write down that they did,” Humphries says. “We were kind of nervous, but it hasn’t been negative.”

WPMT YORK (TRIBUNE/FOX)

WHAT’S NEW: WPMT has ramped up activity on digital platforms, including launching a digital services agency to run online marketing and social media campaigns. “A lot of local businesses do not have time to sit down and do that, nor do they have the expertise,” says VP/GM Chris Topf. “It’s been as successful as we had hoped it would be.”

DID YOU KNOW? Despite being situated in a four-hyphen market, the York station’s audience comes about equally from all parts of the region, Topf says, reflecting a mantra in the newsroom to cover the entire market, not just York. The GM highlights the station’s reporting on the impact of the May Amtrak train crash on the communities in the market and an enterprise story about the friendship between a Holocaust survivor and his liberator from the U.S. Army.

1102_LocalTV_Chart.jpgWHTM HARRISBURG (MEDIA GENERAL/ABC)

WHAT’S NEW: New owner Media General has provided WHTM with additional resources and technologies, including outfitting the station with TVU backpacks, which were put to the test during coverage of Pope Francis’ Philadelphia visit and passed with flying colors. WHTM this year also added weekend newscasts at 6 and 8 a.m.

WHAT’S ON: WHTM has a successful startup in Good Day PA!, a half-hour lifestyle show at 12:30 weekdays featuring local business offers, community organizations and performances. The station has aired some special episodes at 7:30 p.m.

AWARDS: Four 2015 Mid-Atlantic Emmys.

DID YOU KNOW? Joe Lewin, the station’s longtime VP/GM, is retiring Dec. 31 after 17 years with the station. Lewin says he has enjoyed watching technology change the industry throughout his career, especially of late. “It’s hard to keep up with,” he says. “When I started, it was pretty muchblack-and-white, just getting into color, getting into tape machines.”

WHP HARRISBURG (SINCLAIR/CBS)

WHAT’S NEW: Completed transition to high-definition this year. WHAT’S ON: The biggest recent project for WHP has been Friday Night Rivals, its coverage of high school football games on the MyNetworkTV sub-channel and live-streamed online. “It’s been a heck of a commitment,” says GM Bill Bradley, acknowledging the effort that goes into producing live TV for three and a half to four hours from a distant location. “They’re doing a tremendous job with it.”

AWARDS: Five 2015 Mid-Atlantic Emmys.

SPOTLIGHT

Having higher revenue and ratings means longtime market leader WGAL can afford to pull a producer, reporter and photographer off to work on special projects. Because of its bigger staff, “daily coverage doesn’t suffer,” says John Humphries, WGAL president and general manager.

Like other Hearst stations, WGAL does a series called Chronicle, a separate newscast devoted to one story. Now in its second year, Chronicle specials last either half an hour or an hour in the 7-8 p.m. window or occasionally preempt NBC primetime programming.

An episode last year on the proposed natural gas pipeline in Lancaster and Lebanon counties, in which reporter Michael Straub walked the 11-mile stretch, earned him and photographer Michael Grady a 2015 Mid-Atlantic Emmy award.

“We have the journalistic freedom to go long-form. Most stations unfortunately have virtually abandoned that,” Humphries says. “It’s part of who we are as a corporation.”

Other subjects have included the power of prayer, tied to the papal visit; the U.S. Women’s Field Hockey Team, one year out from the 2016 Olympics; and the young and homeless, which won praise from the mayor of York.