The champagne corks aren’t popping. And the confetti is nowhere to be seen. Mark this down as one anniversary that news ratings-challenged WFLD-Channel 32 isn’t celebrating. And one the station certainly isn’t interested in drawing to the attention of its viewers or the news media.
Still, one year ago two of the biggest changes occurred in what has been a near complete, wrenching overhaul of the news department at WFLD.
We’re talking about Bob Sirott’s arrival as co-anchor with Robin Robinson of the station’s flagship 9 p.m., hour-long late news, and almost concurrently, the move of rising anchor/reporter star Anna Davlantes and longtime sports anchor Corey McPherrin to mornings to co-host the last three-hours of the station’s marathon “Good Day, Chicago.”
At the time the changes were made, station management, led by general manager Michael Renda and news director Carol Fowler, had high hopes these adjustments would help lift both programs out of the ratings doldrums.
A year later that has not happened.
In fact, with a couple of days left to go in the July Nielsen ratings book, last-place WFLD’s late 9 p.m. news is doing considerably worse than it was a year ago. The newscast’s rating is — stunningly — down 32 percent from its already low rating a year ago.
Ch. 32 not the only station with a ratings decline
To be fair, at least two other local stations showed some decline in their July late news numbers, but nothing as steep as that at WFLD.
Top-rated WLS-Channel 7’s 10 p.m. news suffered a 7.6 percent falloff year over year in July, but is still well ahead of the pack. And second-place WMAQ-Channel 5 dropped 6.9 percent, while WBBM-Channel 2 was flat year over year. Only WGN-Channel 9’s late news could boast of a modest uptick, with a 2.3 percent jump in the ratings year over year in July.
The ongoing newscast ratings erosion at WFLD has to be a concern for the station, which wasn’t offering any comment Monday about the latest results or about any more possible adjustments, except to note that a new studio news set should be in place by September — a cosmetic change that isn’t likely to be of much help.
WFLD’s big problem at 9 p.m. appears to stem in part from management’s indecision about whether to present a more traditional newscast with a series of faster-paced news segments, or slow things down and do longer, more in-depth interviews and analysis.
When he arrived on the scene and became a major player in reshaping the late news, co-anchor Sirott seemed to be pushing for more in-depth pieces and more extended interviews.
But that didn’t really help, and the station began to waver between the more long-form approach and something quicker and more traditional. By all accounts, the station still hasn’t fully settled on a workable format, which may be part of the reason viewers continue to turn away in droves.
Certainly WGN, which competes directly with WFLD at 9 p.m., looks to be a big beneficiary of the issues afflicting WFLD’s late news. Channel 9 is now the third highest-rated late news program in the market, and shows no signs of relinquishing that slot. WBBM-Channel 2 is ranked fourth, with WFLD dead last.
“Good Day, Chicago” gets no boost from Davlantes and McPherrin
Unfortunately, WFLD has found no salvation either in “Good Day, Chicago,” where Davlantes and McPherrin were expected to give that show new traction. They haven’t. There has been much dickering behind the scenes about the show’s set and about broadening the array of topics discussed.
From the get-go, McPherrin was always most comfortable talking sports, but there obviously was a need to go much broader, given the large female audience for the show.
Now “Good Day, Chicago” has another twist to deal with. Davlantes has announced she’s pregnant, which will necessitate her taking maternity leave late this year, unless the current co-host arrangement should change before then.
Behind the scenes, an increasingly antsy and disappointed WFLD news department staff keeps wondering when the ax will start to fall again at the station, and whose head will roll first unless big ratings improvements come soon.
Given the way things have gone, many staffers believe both general manager Renda and news director Fowler are vulnerable. But for right now, it’s simply full steam ahead. If more big storms are coming, no one in a position to talk publicly is talking .
Contact Lewis Lazare at LewisL3@aol.com