Sinclair retools news

News Central will provide newscasts to stations in 30 markets

Sinclair Broadcast Group's multimillion-dollar News Central facility in its Hunt Valley, Md., headquarters makes quite an impression. Management hopes it will reverse some old impressions.

Sinclair drew national attention over the past few years when it shut down news at WXLV-TV Winston-Salem, N.C.; at NBC affiliate WTWC-TV Tallahassee, Fla.; and especially at ABC affiliate KDNL-TV in major market St. Louis.

Next week, the group takes a major step in its ambitious plan to launch news in 30 of its markets that currently carry no news—including those where news was dropped—with a new business model, a respected news team, and several thousand square feet of newsrooms, control rooms, studios and state-of-the-art technology.

On Monday, Sinclair will launch a newscast that will switch between Park Place Studio Inc.-designed studios in beta site WSMH(TV) Flint-Saginaw-Bay City, Mich., and Sinclair headquarters. The hour program will mix local, national and international news, sports and weather from Sinclair's Accuweather Genesis Weather System. For smoother flow, transitions between locales will be scheduled following commercial breaks, instead of within blocks.

Sinclair expects eventually to have local newscasts in its many markets connected to and supplemented by its News Central.

The cost associated with producing a newscast, explains President and CEO David Smith, is prohibitive in many markets. "We developed a model, using current technology, that reduces or eliminates repetitive efforts and resources that can be produced from a centralized location. … With lower per-station costs, even the smaller markets are able to support a profitable yet high-quality newscast."

The newsrooms will use the Avid Unity System, Newscutter and INews Newsroom Computer System. News Central will also use Panasonic DVCPRO tape machines, manned and robotic Thomson cameras, Grass Valley switcher and Telestream digital distribution. Equipment costs alone have been estimated at more than $6 million.

All the studios are expected to have a uniform, branded look. "Our look and our graphics," says Sinclair Vice President Mark Hyman, "will blow everyone in Flint away." The market has three late newscasts, with WJRT-TV in Flint and WNEM-TV in Saginaw battling for first, but Sinclair's will be the only one at 10 p.m.

Though focusing first on late news in its many non-news stations, the company acknowledges that the centralcast model, with its streamlined local staffing, is likely to move eventually to the markets that currently have news. Many Sinclair news staffers have been worried about their jobs since the company began pulling the plug on some newscasts. Hyman says news will show a "sizable" net gain in staff.