By the Power Vested in the FCC, We Declare You Western Mass News…
UPDATED 4/24/15 3:28PM: For clarity & grammar and to include a new picture and to include info on WWLP’s newscast on its CW subchannel.
Hailing its combined newsgathering operation as “an exciting, new concept” Meredith Corporation unveiled a new brand and a revised lineup for its Springfield-area television stations, WSHM and WGGB. Renamed Western Mass News, the merged news operation represents a shift in the Pioneer Valley’s media landscape, but one whose full impact is not yet known. The arrangement debuted with Tuesday’s noon newscast.
Des Moines-based Meredith’s purchase of ABC and Fox affiliate WGGB last year raised fears about media consolidation and whether newsroom reductions would follow. Plans to consolidate the two stations operations at WGGB’s Liberty Street facility in Springfield, which WMassP&I first reported in February, only amplified these concerns. FCC rules normally prohibit such a sale, but permitted it here because CBS-affiliated WSHM’s transmitter is far lower-powered than WGGB’s.
The head of the merged operation said no jobs were lost in the newsroom. Neither did he dispel rumors the new entity might up the competition with WWLP, the region’s more popular local television broadcaster.
“Our goal is to generate more coverage and content for Western Massachusetts,” Klarn DePalma, Western Mass News’s general manager, told WMassP&I during an interview. Masslive first reported the new name last week.
WSHM, formerly branded as CBS3 Springfield, began as a low-power satellite of Meredith’s Hartford station, WFSB, also a CBS affiliate. Over time, the station opened up its own studios in Monarch Place and started a modest news operation. Though smaller than WWLP or WGGB’s operations, it competed for stories and won awards for news coverage.
Television news, like the rest of journalism, has struggled with changing viewer preferences and the massive shifts in its underlying economic models. The New York Times recently reported Meredith’s publishing arm, which counts Better Homes & Gardens among its properties, was cutting 100 positions. There is no indication this affects Meredith’s broadcasting division.
That comes on top of some less flattering impressions about local news and the mockery outlets like the Daily Show make of television news in general.
CBS 3 Springfield has seemingly tried to emulate its bigger Hartford sibling—it runs one of Connecticut’s major political shows—with a least a bit more hard political coverage. Based on DePalma’s comments, the opportunity for more could increase under the new arrangement.
DePalma emphasized that no newsroom positions were slashed in the merger. Viewers “want more local content that affects them and their families where they live,” he said. “That requires feet on the street.”
The most immediate change may be in the news broadcasts, which carry the Western Mass News banner. At 6PM on weekdays and 11PM every night, both WGGB & WSHM will carry the same newscast. However talent from the WGGB side, Dave Madsen and Lindsay Iadeluca, shall anchor at 6PM and the hour of news that only WGGB airs from 5-6PM. WSHM will have a newscast at 4PM, hosted, as before, by Cherise Leclerc. Madsen will anchor the 11PM newscast appearing on both channels.
Beyond that the schedule is little changed. Chris Pisano will continue to present the 10PM news on Fox 6, a WGGB subchannel. A new block of morning news from 7-9AM will begin airing on Fox 6, which simulcasts ABC40’s morning 5-7AM broadcast. At 7AM, ABC40 switches to Good Morning America.
Meredith’s release on the merger named Patience Hettrick as news director for Western Mass News.
Sources told WMassP&I in February that there was a desire within WSHM’s newsroom to better compete with WWLP for coverage across Western Mass. The NBC affiliate has offices in Northampton and Greenfield and employs one of the few State House reporters representing Springfield-area media.
DePalma did not answer directly about the possibility of challenging WWLP, but he did say that Western Mass News would be looking for opportunities to work with other media outlets and even non-media entities like MGM. “We’re always looking for partnerships,” DePalma said, noting that the relationship with The Republican/Masslive, which it inherited from CBS3 Springfield, would continue.
A spokesperson for Richmond, Va.-based Media General, WWLP’s parent company, did not return a request for comment as of posting time. Perhaps sensing the competition, WWLP now airs a newscast at 10PM on its own CW-affiliated subchannel.
Differences will remain between WGGB and WSHM. DePalma indicated that advertising and other promotions on each channels’ air will vary, in part to properly compliment the programming each channel (or subchannel) receives from its respective affiliated network.
Both WGGB and CBS3 Springfield’s websites now redirect to the new site, westernmassnews.com, which mirrors CBS3’s site more closely, in line with other Meredith stations. A new smartphone app is now available, too. WGGB’s old social media accounts on Facebook and Twitter now carry the new name. Some reporters have updated their Twitter handles to reflect the merger, but a few were unchanged as of posting time.