Three’s a crowd.
After 16 years of crowding the region’s television news scene, the news team at FOX 8/ABC 23 will bow out, again leaving the local market with just two TV news sources.
Peak Media of Pennsylvania, which owns the two Richland Township-based stations, announced Wednesday that, beginning Jan. 14, it will no longer produce its own local news shows.
FOX affiliate WWCP’s 10 p.m. nightly news will be produced by NBC affiliate WJAC of Upper Yoder Township. The show’s format will be cut from one hour to 35 minutes.
WJAC will simulcast its 11 p.m. news show on ABC affiliate WATM in place of its in-house nightly news.
With no news being produced by WWCP/WATM, only WJAC and WTAJ of Altoona will offer televised news coverage. Those were the same options available to residents in the Johnstown-Altoona-State College market prior to Jan. 6, 1992, when Fox 8 and ABC 23 began their news programs.
“We are excited about being the news supplier for three out of the four stations in the market,” said Dick Schrott, vice president and general manager of WJAC. “That’s certainly attractive.”
The move effectively eliminates about 15 jobs at the sister stations, both of which broadcast from along Scalp Avenue in Richland. All of the on-air talent and reporters will lose their jobs, and a handful of production employees also will be out of work.
Schrott said the move will result directly in three new positions, and he said WJAC also is seeking to fill two news jobs.
“Certainly, those folks are welcome to apply for the positions” and will be considered, he said. “Like anything else, we will hire the best.”
Frank Quitoni, president and general manager of WWCP and WATM, said it no longer was feasible for the company to produce its own news.
“We have lost millions of dollars,” he said. “Our news has been operating at a financial loss for years, a loss that is not sustainable. I don’t need to take that loss and be negative. The news staff did an outstanding job to create a top-quality program.”
News Director Jim Penna said Quitoni gathered the news and production members after the 11 p.m. broadcast Tuesday and told them.
“I don’t think the general staff had any indication,” he said. “This time of year, it’s certainly not something that is top of mind.”
Sherry Stalley has been with FOX 8 for 14 of its 16 years, serving as a reporter from 1992-99 and as anchor since 2001.
She said she was stunned by the announcement, considering that WWCP and WATM were posting their audiences in recent ratings.
“The feedback from the public had been wonderful,” Stalley said. “But with the way the market is, I shouldn’t have been surprised. It completely blindsided me.”
The employees being let go by WWCP and WATM will either receive a severance or have their remaining contracts honored. Quitoni said it was the least he could do for the stations’ “family.”
“It just tore my heart out,” Quitoni said.
Beginning Jan. 14, viewers
in the Greater Johnstown television market will have the following
late-night, local news shows:
• FOX 8’s 10 p.m. news broadcast, pared from one hour to 35 minutes, will be produced by WJAC.
• FOX 8’s sister station,
ABC affiliate WATM, will simulcast WJAC’s 11 p.m. news show.
• WTAJ’s 11 p.m. newscast
will be unaffected.
Three’s a crowd.
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