WTTG to Span Two Beltways With Washimore Newscast

By Paul Farhi
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 11, 2006

Washington's local news is about to become Baltimore's, too.

In a move that might reflect the increasing convergence of the Baltimore and Washington media markets, Baltimore's WUTB-TV next month will begin airing five hours of daily news also aired by WTTG (Channel 5) in Washington.

The agreement between WUTB and WTTG -- both are owned by Fox Broadcasting's television group -- will put Channel 5's morning news program and its 10 p.m. newscast on WUTB (Channel 24), which has been an affiliate of the soon-to-be-defunct UPN network. The same anchors and news, weather and sports will air on both stations simultaneously; the only distinction will be the on-screen logo, or "bug," that identifies each channel.

The arrangement evokes longstanding cultural questions about the two often-rival metropoli: How relevant is Washington's "local" news to people in the Baltimore area? And more broadly, are the two areas really distinct anymore as markets, or has sprawl turned them into "Washimore" (or perhaps "Baltiton"? "Baltiwash"?).

Although Baltimore and Washington are statistically separate entities (they are reported separately in the Nielsen TV ratings, for example), executives of the two stations say the differences are growing murkier. Among other things, an estimated 150,000 people commute from Baltimore and its environs into the Washington area each day, said Alan Sawyer, WUTB's general manager.

"Baltimore is a great city, and people here have a lot of pride in it," he said, "but the overlap [with the Washington area] is increasing every day."

What's more, he says, the news often crosses regional boundaries. Washington stations report on Orioles and Ravens games, and weather maps and traffic reports range up and down the I-95 corridor. Baltimore stations, meanwhile, are big on University of Maryland games. And significant developments on Capitol Hill are staples of newscasts everywhere.

Yesterday, Sawyer noted, Washington's news stations were all over Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport -- there's that B-W thing again -- in the wake of the foiled terrorism plot in Britain.

But Sawyer and his counterpart at WTTG, Duffy Dyer, acknowledge that Fairfax will never be Towson, and Chesapeake Bay crabs will probably always be as regionally symbolic of Baltimore as pork is to Washington.

"They both have very specific personalities, and they'll never really meld to such a degree that you won't notice the difference," Dyer said. "But there are many people who live in one place and work in the other." (For the record, Dyer prefers "Washimore.")

The arrangement will extend WTTG's potential viewing audience into areas that its broadcast signal cannot reach, and where cable companies don't carry it. The station will not add any Baltimore-centric elements to its newscast or hire additional reporters, Dyer said.

WUTB has been broadcasting infomercials and "Seinfeld" reruns in the time slots that beginning Sept. 5 will carry Channel 5's news, and has not produced its own news previously. Smaller, second-tier stations such as WUTB typically go without news programming, which is relatively expensive to produce. By plugging in WTTG's broadcast, WUTB will save millions of dollars in startup costs for its own news operation.

The cross-border local-news simulcast has been tried in other, smaller markets, Sawyer said, but the Baltimore-Washington arrangement might be a first for a pair of major cities. Nielsen considers the Washington region the eighth-largest TV market by population; Baltimore ranks No. 24.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company