TV news expanding — what’s up?

So, maybe it’s just me, but it looks like TV news stations are expanding or launching newscasts again.  In the past week, I’ve seen the following headlines:

Ok, it’s only four, but is this a sign?  If so, what kind of sign?  The optimist in me says that this means the economy is rebounding, the pessimist feels nothing but sympathy for those having to “do even MORE with less.”

Dan Bradley, general manager of WCMH in Columbus, Ohio says a number of factors are at play.

“First, I think the trades are making a bigger deal out of the recent announcements than they probably deserve.  The recent announcements barely make a dent in all that was lost over the last 18 months…but then, I guess any positive move should be celebrated,”  Bradley says.

And there is something to celebrate. 
“Certainly there are signs the economy is coming back, and local TV is experiencing some robust year to year growth.  Here in Columbus, we are busting our budget each quarter, but most of that;  however,  has been driven by national advertising and political,”  Bradley says.

Marian Pittman, news director at WSB in Atlanta says her station is one of those expanding.

“The audience is apparently there at 4:30 a.m., and they want weather and traffic. In a city like Atlanta people are getting up earlier and earlier and making their commutes,”  Pittman says.

Bradley says he thinks political ad spending is the driver behind some news expansion. 
“The vast majority of political spending, especially that which gets spent on local TV is done in news programs.  One way of making sure you get your share, or even the largest share is to add news programs,” Bradley says.

Of course, the big question is what about staffing?  The Fox affiliate in Tuscon, Ariz. reports it plans to hire a dozen people plus an executive news director.  Pittman says she got the go ahead to hire four more people for WSB’s expansion.  The other reports on expansion said little about hiring and Bradley guesses those shops will produce more content primarily with existing staff. 
“Here is something to watch for though next year.  Oprah ends her run in September, 2011.  How many stations will fill her time period with local news…want to make a bet?” Bradley asks. “I would say fewer than 10% will opt for that solution.  The reason?  They do not want to make the financial commitment to add the staff necessary to do a real local newscast at 4 p.m. in a way that doesn’t just dilute their established early evening newscasts.”

Still, Pittman says it’s a lot cheaper to do news than to buy syndicated programming, and she’s philosophical about the fact that most stations are not expanding staff when they expand newscasts.

“In  some cases this is saving jobs which is a good thing too.  It’s better to be asked to work harder and smarter than to be told your position has been cut,”  Pittman says.