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An Information Community Case Study: Washington, D.C. - Television

August 5, 2010 |
The Rosslyn, VA, studio of WJLA

The Rosslyn, VA, studio of WJLA (Photo credit: M.V. Jantzen/Flickr)


The District of Columbia has 15 television stations with the majority privately and/or commercially owned. Television stations included in this study are all based within the D.C. area and service areas including metro D.C., Maryland and/or Virginia. Of these, two are public television properties: WETA and WHUT. Between them, WETA and WHUT are served by 230 working journalists.

Established in 1961, WETA is a Public Service Broadcasting (PBS) television station serving the D.C. area. The station is located in Arlington, Virginia, and produces several of PBS’s nationally syndicated programs including PBS Newshour and Washington Week. WETA programming reaches approximately 1.3 million viewers worldwide. As part of its local programming, WETA occasionally broadcasts “WETA Neighborhoods” video segments, “Fascinating Washingtonians,” and “Caring Organizations,” profiles of communities, people, and organizations that represent diverse portrayals of the city and are also available any time on the station’s local website.1 WETA is financed by grants, public giving, public broadcasting support and federal & state governments. In 2009, WETA reported an operating surplus of nearly $2.9 million.2

In addition to its flagship channel, WETA also has two alternate strands: WETA Create provides 24-hour how to, travel, and cooking programs. WETA Kids reflects the station’s long-standing commitment to children’s programming with 24-hour quality educational programming such as Sesame Street. In 1996 WETA launched its first national educational project, LD Online, a web site that provides accurate and up-to-date information and advice about learning disabilities and ADHD.3

WHUT is also an Emmy Award-winning PBS member station hosted on the Howard University campus. The station was the first African-American owned and operated public educational station in the United States. First aired in 1980, the station reaches approximately 2 million households in the D.C. area. Its programming centers on national and international content produced by PBS. Its flagship show is the over 25-year-old Evening Exchange, a live broadcast on issues facing the black community that airs weeknights and features Kojo Nnamdi, a high-profile local broadcaster who also has a radio show on WAMU.

Additionally, the District is also served by two public education and government (PEG) access channels: DCTV and OCT TV-16. Established in 1988, DCTV encourages local community members to create and telecast their own shows. The non-profit media outlet provides training, certification in video production and telecast opportunities to the community. The DCTV community has created over 8,000 hours of programming annually, totaling more than 168,000 hours of community-produced programming over its 21 year history.4 Programming topics include health, public affairs and sports. The OCT TV-16 channel provides information of the programs, services and opportunities made available by the D.C. government, which include housing, healthcare, the environment, economic development and the arts. Most importantly, the channel airs DC People, an exclusive short feature program that highlights individuals who improve the Washington community.5


The commercial television landscape of D.C. includes 11 stations serving the area. The major network affiliates are WRC (NBC), WUSA (CBS), WDCW (CW), WJLA (ABC), and WTTG and WDCA (Fox). Three other privately owned stations include WNUV (owned by Ion Media), WZDC (owned by ZGS Broadcast) and News Channel 8 (owned by a division of Allbritton Communications Company and soon to be TBD TV). Sister stations WMDO, owned by Entravision Communications, and WFDC, owned by Univision Corporation, round out the commercial television stations with Spanish-language programming. This report estimates at least 136 journalists work for D.C.’s commercial television stations.6

WRC-TV Channel 4 is a NBC affiliate station that first aired in 1947. Its reaches over 167,600 adult viewers every 30 minutes.7 Viewers of WRC come from households making approximately $72.8 thousand dollars per year.8 The station relies heavily on advertising for revenue.

The majority of its programming focuses on national and regional news. Its most well-known programming includes Meet the Press, which debuted on November 6, 1947. WRC-TV also features original local programming, such as “Get Healthy 4 Life” and “Community Shreds”, “Going Green,” “It’s Academic,” “Redskin Report,” “DC Scene” and “Power House.” According to WRC-TV’s Quarterly Issues/Program Report (2009) accessible within the files all broadcasters are required to keep as part of the public interest obligations required for licensing, the station covers public interest concerns in areas such as education, politics and transportation. The amount of coverage spans evenly between subject topics, but the scope tends to emphasize regional and state-wide news over more local concerns. Additionally, many of the news stories listed in fulfillment of these subject areas appear to emphasize a human interest or “soft news” angle, such as the following:

  • “NBC 4 Dec 2 -- This Red Top Cab is more than a taxi. For disabled Arlington residents like Rose Ann Ashby, it’s a vital link to the outside world.” 
  • "NBC 4 Nov 5 -- The space station’s Expedition 21 crew did a question and answer session with students from the Washington Mathematics Science and Technology Public Charter and the Parkland Magnet School for Aerospace Technology.”

CBS affiliate WUSA Channel 9 (owned by Gannett Broadcasting) first aired in 1949 and remains the only local TV station to have a 7:00 pm news cast. The station reaches approximately 155,550 adult viewers per 30 minutes.9 Like other TV affiliated outlets, this CBS station features nationally distributed programs with local news presented during designated news hours. During the local news hour, content focuses on local events, politics and community stories. The local news program begins at 4:30 am EDT everyday with “9 News Now at 4:30am.” The station regularly features segments as part of “Hero Central” (including the weekly “Friday’s Heroes”), a rubric within the station’s news programming that was developed in June 2009 to highlight community service projects across the city and help connect potential volunteers and donors with the community organizations featured on each broadcast. Khalim Piankhi, Vice President, Community Relations, said of this initative, “This is the way we can stick with doing what we do best, which is telling stories …, and really make a difference.”10 In summer 2010 the station aired a special titled “The Great Hang-Up,” assuming an advocacy role to speak out against distracted driving (i.e., driving while texting or using mobile devices).11

Like many local broadcasters, WUSA is increasingly embracing the potential for online and mobile news distribution. As of this report’s publication, WUSA is in the process of developing 50 hyperlocal online news sites, which will be managed by 3 newly hired producers and filled with user-generated content from communities in the metro Washington region. In addition, WUSA is the headquarters for Gannett’s participation in the Open Mobile Video Coalition, which is developing live mobile television that will, at least initially, be available for free to consumers. The mobile video is currently being tested on more than 1,000 units and has been in development for less than one year.12

On the air since 1947, the ABC affiliate WJLA now reaches approximately 127,500 adult viewers per 30 minutes.13 WJLA is owned by Allbritton Communications and headquartered in Arlington, Virginia. Advertising continues to be the main revenue stream for the station. The 41 journalists in the newsroom cover a variety of topics from the international to the local level. However, as an ABC affiliate, the majority of WJLA’s TV schedule comes from ABC’s national programming list with only two exceptions: locally-produced sports and election specials. Inside Washington, hosted by Gordon Peterson airs every Sunday morning at 9 am EDT. The program highlights national political stories from around the capital. Viewers can watch the embedded video and/or download transcripts, if available.

WTTG and WDCA are Fox sister networks and are co-owned by MyNetworkTV. The two stations share broadcasting facilities in upper Northwest Washington, D.C. Before joining the MyNetworkTV family, WDCA operated as an independent station. WDCA is also referred to as the My20 station. This Fox Corporation duo serves over 130,000 adult viewers per 30 minutes.14

Programming for both WTTG and WDCA pull from the national Fox network schedule. Local programs include news broadcasts at 4:30 am, 5:00am to 10:00 am, 5:00pm, 10:00pm and 11:00 pm. In September 2009, WTTG expanded its Fox Morning News coverage to five hours a week on Mondays through Fridays. This program covers a wide swath of news including national and international information. It also provides local news updates, weather and sports for the region of Washington.

As the public inspection files suggest, local television news programming does not regularly address hard news subjects in the same depth as other media. Consumer affairs issues, weather, human interest stories, and related subjects occupy much of the news broadcasts.


[1] See http://www.weta.org/local, Accessed 22 July 2010.

[2] "FY09 WETA Community Report”,WETA.org, http://www.weta.org/files/FY09_reportcommunity.pdf, Accessed 24 July 2010.

[3] See http://www.ldonline.org/, Accessed 21 July 2010.

[4] “Annual report: 2009-2010”, DCTV Online, p.4, http://www.dctvonline.tv/docs/DCTV_AR.pdf, Accessed 4 August 2010.

[5] “Channel Description”, OCTTV, http://octt.dc.gov/services/channel16/describe.shtm, Accessed 4 August 2010.

[6] Data were unavailable for WNUV, WZDC, and WTEM.

[7] Washington Post Media, Market Book, p. 30, http://www.washingtonpostads.com/adsite/_res/files/managed/2010%20Market..., Accessed 21 July 2010.

[8] Ibid

[9] Ibid

[10] Khalim Piankhi, Interview at WUSA, 3 March 2010.

[11] See http://www.wusa9.com/rss/local_article.aspx?storyid=100670, Accessed 5 Aug. 2010.

[12] Khalim Piankhi, Interview, 5 Aug. 2010. See also: http://www.omvc.org/about-omvc/initiatives/dc-showcase/, Accessed 5 Aug. 2010.

[13] Washington Post Media, Market Book, p. 30, http://www.washingtonpostads.com/adsite/_res/files/managed/2010%20Market..., Accessed 21 July 2010.

[14] Ibid

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