News junkies seeking the latest on the District's budget woes or the doings of Fairfax County's school board will find it on their television screens 24 hours a day starting this summer.
In an unusual, if not unique, experiment in TV news, Reston-based Allnewsco Inc. has signed up the Washington area's eight local cable systems to carry its proposed news-around-the-clock channel.
The station's executives speak of the channel as "son of CNN" but in concept it sounds more like a local version of Cable News Network's Headline News -- a continuous series of self-contained newscasts designed to be watched for short periods.
Allnewsco is owned by Joe L. Allbritton, chairman and chief executive of Riggs National Corp. and the owner of WJLA, Channel 7 in Washington (the TV station bears Allbritton's initials, JLA, and the cable venture has part of his last name).
Allnewsco has not indicated how much Allbritton is pouring into the startup, but it is probably substantial, given the cost of hiring a staff of 175 workers and outfitting what is in essence a brand-new TV station.
Despite intense competition from local broadcasters, Allnewsco's managers say the channel will occupy a special niche in the market.
John Hillis, Allnewsco's president, said the channel will be positioned as a strictly local news source, eliminating the national and international news that area broadcasters sometimes include in their reports.
"Given a choice between covering the White House and the county courthouse, we'll choose the courthouse," said Hillis, 38.
Allnewsco expects to generate revenue from two sources: subscriber fees paid by the cable systems carrying the channel and advertising it sells to local companies. The company won't disclose revenue projections or other financial arrangements.
To give the channel what Hillis calls a "hyper-local" slant, Allnewsco will supplement its regular programming with three shorter news reports each day tailored specifically for viewers in suburban Maryland, Northern Virginia and the District.
These "zone" news feeds will air only on the appropriate cable system -- Cable TV Montgomery will pick up the Maryland feed, for example, while District Cablevision will take the District feed.
Not incidentally, the local feeds will enable the various cable systems to sell ads to small businesses that otherwise couldn't afford TV advertising or those wanting to "target" specific customers in a geographic area.
"Pepco doesn't need to reach viewers in Virginia, and Vepco doesn't need people in D.C. or Maryland, so each will be able to pick and choose," said Jerald Fritz, vice president of Allnewsco's parent company, Allbritton Communications Co. of Washington.
Fritz said Allnewsco will operate independently of WJLA. He disputed industry speculation that Allbritton eventually plans to replace the higher-paid talent at WJLA with Allnewsco's nonunion staff.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Allnewsco's broadcast news competitors don't think much of the channel as a business proposition.
"They're taking on an enormous amount of expense, but maybe they've found a demand for this sort of thing," said Hank Yaggi, general manager of WUSA, Channel 9.
Said another local TV executive, "I don't see the sense of it at all." New cable channels have enormous difficulty attracting viewers, said this executive, pointing out that even CNN's local ratings fall short of Washington's broadcast stations.
And with cable TV seen in only 55 percent of Washington-area households, Allnewsco will be at an instant disadvantage competing against broadcasters, he said.
But Hillis is encouraged by past experience. At the age of 27, he helped launch CNN, and later was general manager of News 12 Long Island, one of two 24-hour local news channels operating around the country.
CNN has made journalism history and turned a profit too. As for News 12, five years and $10 million later, the channel just broke into the black, Hillis said.