"The January results are great, and we're very happy with them," Newman says. "But we also know this is a very competitive media landscape with very, very difficult competition. And we need to continue to work hard and focus on continuing to deliver a great news product."

Hamilton's debut after the Super Bowl at the late-news anchor desk alongside Daniels will be watched closely.

Banister's departure after 15 years was a prime example of a high-performing veteran being dumped to save money in a tough economy. But in cutting costs, WBAL may have lost something else.

Banister brought a bit of big-market gloss — if not class — to a newscast often filled with crime scenes and gritty rowhouse visuals.

"I had a former general manager in Los Angeles who told me something I have always remembered," Banister said last week when she was asked to comment on the WBAL ratings. "He said as hard as it is to become No. 1 in television, it is even harder to stay there. You cannot become complacent. You cannot take viewers for granted. And you must always strive for quality."

Banister — who still lives in Baltimore, where she runs a media consulting firm — added that she believes an "experienced" newsroom and anchor desk are the kinds of factors that make for a winning newscast.

"Even in tough economic times, experience is well worth the cost, because, at least in television, if you cut back too far, you risk hurting your news product," she said. "And then you risk losing the loyalty of your viewers. Basically, you give them a moment to try another station on for size. And they may decide they like it better."

(The Baltimore Sun and WJZ have a content sharing agreement.)

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