Is WUSA Washington trying to cut its way to success, or shifting to the news-gathering model fo the future?
Time will tell. The Washington Post reports that the Gannett station is combining photographer/producer/reporter roles into so-called one-man bands early next year.
Under a new agreement reached this week with its labor unions, WUSA, Channel 9, will become the first station in Washington to replace its crews with one-person "multimedia journalists" who will shoot and edit news stories single-handedly.
The change will blur the distinctions between the station’s reporters and its camera and production people. Reporters will soon be shooting and editing their own stories, and camera people will be doing the work of reporters, occasionally appearing on the air or on in video clips on Channel 9’s Web site.
Some, like VJ consultant Michael Rosenblum, suggest the one-man bands are how news organizations have to be set up in the digital world. Others say VJ product lacks the quality of traditionally shot and produced bits.
WUSA has been taking its lumps in DC. The Post says staffers at the station are facing pay cuts.
Separate from its new union agreement, WUSA — owned by McLean-based media giant Gannett — plans an across-the-board cut in reporters’ salaries as it increases their responsibilities. Multimedia journalists will earn 30 to 50 percent less than what traditional reporters have been earning, with salaries topping out at around $90,000 annually, according to people at the station.
WUSA president/general manager Allan Horlick said the VJ model will boost the station’s news game.
"We believe strongly that [this change] will raise both the quality and quantity of the product we’re putting out" on TV and on the internet, Horlick said in an interview yesterday. "The concept of a multimedia journalist, having his own beat, with an area of expertise, and a limitless virtual news desk is something we can get very excited about."