Stations Feel the Gas Price Pinch

News directors struggle to balance coverage against the fuel pump
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While stories about conserving gasoline are popping up daily in local newscasts, some stations are taking the segments' message to heart.

Meredith's WFSB Hartford has stopped allowing camera operators to take station vehicles home from work each day. The move came on the heels of the CBS affiliate conducting what News Director Dana Neves calls "a full analysis" that even involved using MapQuest to measure how far away photographers lived. The study showed WFSB could save as much as $12,000 annually if the station vehicles stayed in the lot.

Stations aren't the only employers scaling back employees' driving privileges in the wake of the gas crunch. WFSB's move came weeks after Connecticut Governor Jodi Rell dictated that state police cut gasoline consumption by 25%—and asked troopers not to fill up their cruisers at department pumps while off duty.

"We don't want to compromise our daily news coverage, but you have to be a little more mindful about [the price of gas]," says Neves, who does not believe WFSB's coverage has been adversely affected. The camera crew did grumble, she said, but ultimately understood.

Escalating gas prices come at a time when stations are going through extreme belt-tightening measures, including layoffs. Limiting trips for a satellite truck, which Neves says might cost several hundred dollars to fill up, is increasingly necessary. Truck operators now take a more economical station car to relieve a colleague, she says, instead of putting a second van on the road.

Covering high school football is a staple of WFSB's sports programming, and the new season begins in a matter of weeks. The station will not cut back on the dozen-plus games it covers on a Friday night. "That's our cross to bear," Neves says. "It's not fair to viewers or to us to cut from that."

Other stations are taking measures to reduce gas consumption too. A number of Fox-owned outlets, including WTTG Washington and WFLD Chicago, have added hybrid SUVs, such as the Ford Escape, to their fleets in the past year. KVVU Las Vegas is employing a truck tracking system. That helps prevent drivers from getting lost and aids in finding the closest truck to send to a breaking news story. WITN Greenville (N.C.) News Director Stephanie Shoop says managers recently began asking employees to conserve gas.

Reporters and sales people at WBRE and WYOU, who cover a sprawling 17 counties in Scranton, Pa., are similarly reminded to ease up on the gas pedal. "It certainly affects us," WBRE VP/General Manager Lou Abitabilo says. "We have to be a little smarter about our driving habits."

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