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WMAQ-TV Restructures News Department for Modern Times

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A large portion of NBC-owned WMAQ-Channel 5's staff got the news Wednesday: the station is dramatically restructuring its news department. Per WMAQ Station Manager Frank Whittaker, the existing news department jobs of executive producer, producer, videotape editor and news writer are being eliminated. In their place, the station is introducing new jobs with the titles of daypart manager, platform manager and content producer.

These new jobs presumably will allow the station to more effectively -- and efficiently -- deliver the news on a variety of platforms, including, of course, the traditional TV newscast, the station's constantly-evolving Web site and, potentially, mobile devices and even gas station pump monitors where NBC has a contract to deliver content. Unaffected by the announced changes are the station's on-air talent, who will pretty much continue to do what they do in front of the camera.

To achieve this restructuring, Whittaker said all the staff who had jobs with the titles being eliminated (many of whom are unionized) are being asked to re-apply for new jobs with WMAQ. Station management will then assess each applicant's skills and determine if he or she can fit into one of the new job categories. Whittaker said some staff might have to go through retraining to fit into the new structure, while others might opt not to re-apply and leave the station altogether. Still others may not be rehired.

Whittaker said WMAQ is following in the footsteps of sister station WNBC in New York, which has already gone through this kind of restructuriing. "It worked well for them covering the plane crash in the Hudson River, so we think it will work well here too," said Whittaker, who also conceded some staffers might not be happy about what the local station is doing. Even so, said Whittaker, "I think all of them understand this business has to change."

However, other sources in the local television market reacted somewhat cynically to the news of WMAQ's staff restructuring. "I can sort of see what they're trying to do, but in the end I think this may be more about trying to eliminate more jobs and get rid of deadwood than it is about anything else," said another local broadcast executive.

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Lewis Lazare has written the Media Mix column for the Chicago Sun-Times for the past seven and a half years.

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