Ratings-troubled KCBS-TV Channel 2 announced plans Monday for a radically new 4-7 p.m. news lineup that station officials called the "next generation of local news" with "no similar model anywhere in the country."
Beginning Sept. 15, the station plans to broadcast its three-hour block of afternoon and evening news programs 30 minutes earlier, break up news time into eight individual informational programs and add noted radio talk-show host Michael Jackson to its stable of on-air news personalities.
The station, which consistently ranks behind rivals KABC-TV Channel 7 and KNBC-TV Channel 4 in news ratings, also moved to address pleadings by local civil-rights organizations by naming Valerie Coleman, a black, to a weekday anchor position.
"We found that television has to catch up with its audience," said station news director Erik Sorenson. "That means putting news into logical sections, like a newspaper does, so viewers know where to find what they want."
Most of the format changes will appear in the first two hours of the time period--six separate 20-minute shows. The last hour will be divided between more traditional 30-minute local and national news programs.
Four of the new programs will present a variety of so-called "back-of-the-book" life style reports which will include health news, features, entertainment news and celebrity interviews.
Talk-show host Jackson, who will remain on his popular KABC Radio morning program, will interview news makers and celebrities in a 20-minute show to be called "California People." Jackson's show also will feature film reviews and entertainment reports.
Channel 2 general manager Frank Gardner called the new format an effort to avoid duplicating "the standard, two-hour blur of features and . . . scattered news" that make up most local news programming.
"Our new strategy takes steps that are innovative and logical and don't force viewers to wade through that blur to find what's important to them," said Gardner.
What's important to local civil rights groups, however, is that the station named a black woman to a weekday news anchor's position, making Valerie Coleman the only black weekday news anchor on any of the three leading stations in Los Angeles.
KCBS, along with other CBS Inc.-owned stations in Chicago, New York and Philadelphia, has been criticized for its minority employment practices. Calls for the station to add a weekday black anchor at Channel 2 were reiterated last week, after the announced departures of 5 p.m. anchors Jess Marlow and Colleen Williams. (In a related development Monday, KNBC announced that Williams will join its weekend news staff as an anchor on Aug. 25.)
Coleman joined KCBS in May as a general assignment reporter. Prior to signing with Channel 2, Coleman spent 11 years as a reporter and news anchor in San Francisco.
Local civil-rights organizations applauded Coleman's promotion at the station, but one group that has tried to persuade the station to be more responsive to a variety of minority issues called the Coleman appointment only a "first step" for KCBS.
The African Collective, which, along with the Los Angeles Black Media Coalition and local representatives of the Operation PUSH civil rights group, has been a vocal critic of Channel 2's minority employment practices, said that the Coleman appointment would not stop efforts to increase minority hiring at the station or to persuade the station to do business with minority-owned outside contractors.
"We're calling for continued action against KCBS," said Stanley Stain, a spokesman for the collective. "We do not rule out escalating future actions--including boycotting selective companies that advertise on KCBS."
Willis Edwards, president of the Beverly Hills/Hollywood chapter of the NAACP, called Coleman's promotion and the new format "a very revolutionary plan. I must applaud Frank Gardner for his creativity in making sure that all minorities are included in anchoring the news."
Edwards also said his group hopes that more blacks will be used in the newsroom as reporters, writers and general production capacities.
Andi Sporkin, a spokeswoman for Channel 2, declined to characterize the Coleman promotion as a response to the various civil rights groups' complaints. Sporkin said the Coleman promotion "continues our position as the station in town with the best minority representation on air."
In addition to Coleman, blacks anchors appearing regularly on Channel 2 include sportscaster Jim Hill and weekend and substitute anchor Hosea Sanders.
KNBC has one black anchor, weatherman Christopher Nance, on three weekdays at 4 p.m. and the Saturday and Sunday afternoon and 11 p.m. broadcasts. KABC has no black anchors.
The NAACP's Edwards said his group is preparing a letter to send to Capital Cities/ABC Inc., parent company of KABC, urging them to add a black anchor on Channel 7. Edwards also said he plans to "lobby all the stations, including the independents" for more black visibility on the news.