Chicago's WMAQ-Ch. 5 restructuring newsroom
Some employees must apply for new jobs with more responsibilities
By Phil Rosenthal | Tribune reporter
January 29, 2009
News producers, writers and
editors at NBC-owned WMAQ-Ch. 5 were told Wednesday they must reapply for new multi-faceted
positions, the demands of which reflect the station's efforts to provide
content not just for TV but the Internet, mobile devices and other emerging
The new jobs – with titles such as platform manager and content producer – are to be posted beginning Thursday, not just for internal candidates but outsiders as well.
"It's not a cost-cutting thing," said Frank Whittaker, WMAQ's station manager and vice president for news. "We haven't got the numbers yet, so I can't tell you if it matches up exactly or not. But the real reason is to take the resources we have and try to produce more content in more platforms than we're doing right now, and more platforms also means that hopefully we'll start making more revenue.
"The big picture is we're trying to become a newsroom that provides content for a number of different platforms, including the growth areas, which could be Web, could be mobile … a lot of different places where our content may play now or may play someday," he said. "That's how we're going to grow as our traditional business stays flat or declines or whatever happens in the future."
A handful of other NBC-owned stations, including Los Angeles's KNBC-TV, will join WMAQ in following WNBC's lead, which involves providing technology that enables people sitting at their desk to accomplish many tasks. Work hours may also shift because the different media have different demands
"A writer now has to write, an editor now has to edit," Whittaker said. "These new jobs are going to require multiple skills. You'll have to write, edit, you'll have to know how to send a story to the Web, order graphics and design graphics for the story you're working on."
Video will come into the newsroom, and rather than have separate people write, edit and produce material, the stated goal is to have a single "content producer" screen it, edit it and write a TV script for it as well as arrange necessary on-air graphics. That same person also will modify it for the NBCChicago.com Web site and other platforms.
"I think there are going to be enough jobs for people who meet the qualifications. The pay is going to be comparable," Whittaker said. "The biggest change, I think, is people are going to have to learn new skills. People are going to have to show they have a proficiency in a number of different skills, whereas now maybe they're good at one thing. That, to me, is the biggest challenge."
Privately, some current WMAQ staff members expressed concern that the most experienced – and most expensive staff members – would be vulnerable in the 21st century makeover. There also are fears that someone who is particularly good with a skill such as writing or editing might not be as adept at something else with which they have less, little or no experience.
Whittaker said he shares some concerns, but that at WNBC "some of the more senior people are the ones who succeeded in the new platforms" and management there was "pleasantly surprised to see it was the veterans who were better at the different news skills they had to learn."
WMAQ intends to make training available, he said.
"We're going to try to help them, but they're going to have to help themselves, too," Whittaker said. "Now if they're editors and learning to write, are they going to be Hemingways? Probably not. But as long as they can write a basic script, then they've met the basic qualifications.
"That's going to be the biggest challenge," he said. "People are going to be asked to do a number of different skills vs. what they're doing now."