Nowhere to go but up

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WCBS-TV New York doesn't get much good news these days, even from its partners. Only two days before the station and The Daily News announced that they will begin working together on various reporting projects, the newspaper reported that the station's two network rivals were neck-and-neck for the local ratings lead and CBS' flagship station was a distant third, down double digits from the year before and having one of its very worst sweeps performances ever.

"It's pretty clear that changes need to be made-changes in direction and changes in execution-and there's no time like the present," said News Director Joel Cheatwood, who took over shortly before the sweeps.

He acknowledged that recent and, no doubt, upcoming changes at the station put morale at risk: "Any time there's change, there's a sense of trepidation." The station's news department has increased both its budget and its body count, he said. Still, sources pointed out, with the station a distant third, not everyone who was there in the past will necessarily be there in the future, and some apprehension is justified.

Cheatwood said the station will not necessarily increase its story count, as some fear, but will become more selective in its stories. "I don't think we do a very good job going beyond the stock fare. We're far too reliant on news conferences, court cases-handout stuff. We need more unique stories, more enterprise stories, and stories that have more relevance to the viewers."

Current ratings, he said, are not disheartening. "I knew coming in the door that we had to build a foundation for growth. It's been that way everywhere I've gone."

Cheatwood, who is vice president of news for CBS' station group, sounded upbeat, but there are also problems at other CBS stations. Although kcbs, in No. 2-market Los Angeles, got a boost from a recent exposé on auto dealership practices, the station still lags in sweeps ratings.

And, at WBBM-TV Chicago, ratings for Carol Marin's late news, although it drew lots of attention and critical acclaim when she took over earlier this year, are down. Cheatwood, however, is taking a hands-off approach at wbbm, given problems in his relationship with Marin when the two worked together at wmaq-tv.

All news is local.

Contact Dan Trigoboff at (301) 260-0923, e-mail dtrig@erols.com or fax to (202)463-3742.

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