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Sinclair contemplates centralizing weather forecasting for stations

Sinclair Broadcast Group's consideration of a central weather facility that could produce weather reports for some or all of its 60-plus stations has prompted worry among some Sinclair news staffers and raised questions about the meaning of local TV.

With station groups managing and operating stations from other stations and sharing resources at various levels for efficiency and cost savings, centralized weathercasting doesn't seem such a stretch. But some news pros say weather is too important to take out of the market. Some Sinclair managers expressed concern that a move toward central weather would mean firing weather staff and fewer resources.

"It's a terrible idea," says Dan Salamone, news director at Emmis-owned KRQE(TV) Albuquerque, N.M., who has worked in large and small markets where local weather is an important story. "This is a decision that could only be made by accountants."

A Sinclair exec countered, "Just because you have a $25,000-a-year guy in One-Eyed-Bass, Ark., doesn't mean you've got a good weather report."

Another Sinclair newsperson tried to see both sides. "You can't forecast the Great Lakes snow from Baltimore," he said. "You lose the local personality and the local impact. On the other hand, this plan may produce a more reliable source with much more weather-forecasting power than we have in our shop right now."

Sinclair isn't saying much. "There is no definitive, rock-solid plan, said Del Parks, the group's vice president for operations and engineering. "We do have some plans, but it would be premature to talk about it right now. We told the news directors we're going to think about it." A decision could be made in weeks, he added.

Central weather, Sinclair sources say, could originate from its WBFF(TV) in the chain's Baltimore headquarters or existing facilities already providing weather forecasts for multiple new outlets.

Weather reports are major battlefields of the local-news wars. Weather ranks high on viewers' list of priorities and, therefore, on news directors'. "Getting the forecast information isn't the same as covering the story in the local community," observed Barbara Cochran, president of the Radio and Television News Directors Association.

Jackson, Miss.-based National Weather network provides custom forecasts for more than 100 small- to large-market stations—including some Sinclair stations without news departments. Typically, "our product is a forecast. But if a station wants service beyond that, we can provide it," says Edward St. Pé, who runs National Weather. "You might not want to knock out your 5, 6 and 10 p.m. anchors, but you might want to consolidate your weekend, morning and noon newscasts, those hard-to-fill places."