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The Sun, WBAL-TV to launch multimedia alliance next week

The Sun and WBAL-TV are set to launch a multimedia partnership next week built around the television station's weather reports in print and the newspaper's suburban and regional news on the air.

"I've long felt that there are very specific areas that would make all the sense in the world for us to work with The Baltimore Sun," said Bill Fine, general manager and president of WBAL-TV, which heavily promotes its image as a source of hard news. "We are in the process of identifying those and going forward first with the weather partnership."

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According to officials for both companies, the newspaper will begin, perhaps as early as Monday, to feature chief WBAL-TV meteorologist Tom Tasselmyer on the back page of the Maryland section. Tasselmyer will answer weather questions each day on The Sun's Web site.

WBAL's morning newscasts are to include reviews of stories of suburban and regional interest from that day's newspaper. Although not all details are firm, late-night news programs would touch on enterprise stories from the next day's Sun, according to the newspaper.

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"We will have a daily presence on a news station that I think aspires to do great journalism and that, I think, journalistically has many of the same values that we have," said Timothy A. Franklin, editor and senior vice president of The Sun.

The Chicago-based Tribune Co., which owns The Sun, is among the media companies that have aggressively pursued such joint efforts across different kinds of outlets. In some markets, such as New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Hartford, Conn., Tribune owns television and newspaper properties. For example, the Chicago Tribune weather page features questions answered by a forecaster for Tribune-owned WGN. In markets such as Baltimore, Tribune has pursued a strategy of teaming up with others - in this case, the Hearst-Argyle Co.

The new alliance is significantly less extensive than the two-year effort between The Sun and WMAR-TV, which the newspaper dissolved in February. Under that initiative, a Sun Report was featured on each late newscast to promote the next morning's paper, and the two media outlets swapped commercial space. The new arrangement includes no similar advertising component.

Advocates of multimedia arrangements say they enable news outlets to reach more people and to affirm their brand identities. The Sun will be able to draw on the local celebrity of Tasselmyer. WBAL will be able to offer its viewers stories from areas where it has few journalists, as The Sun has a far larger reporting staff.

"It will be good exposure for our journalists," Franklin said. "I think it will, hopefully, draw more eyeballs into the newspaper. For [WBAL], it helps to reinforce in the public's mind that Tasselmyer is a leading force in town for all things weather. It's a win-win for both the TV station and the newspaper."

A tangible payoff is not guaranteed. Ratings estimates from Nielsen Media Research suggest that WMAR did not succeed in winning larger audiences during the two-year partnership. In November 2001, the last "sweeps" month before the pact was announced, televisions in 45,000 households were tuned to WMAR for the 11 p.m. newscasts. Two years later, in the last month before the agreement's end, WMAR drew people in 43,000 homes - a drop of more than 4 percent. Its hold on 25- to 54-year-olds dipped from 7 percent of that group to 6 percent.

But WMAR has long been struggling to improve its ratings. WBAL-TV is one of the two strongest stations in the Baltimore market, vying with WJZ-TV for top honors. In the afternoons and evenings, WBAL has the strongest ratings, while WJZ's local newscasts in the mornings and at noon surpass those of its rival.

For the record

Due to an editing error, an article in yesterday's editions mischaracterized an element of a new multimedia arrangement between WBAL-TV and The Sun. On the newspaper's weather page, WBAL chief meteorologist Tom Tasselmyer is to respond to questions posed through The Sun's Web site.The Sun regrets the errors.


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