Atlanta drawing more news operations including Newsy

Black News Channel also plans to move its headquarters to the city.

More than four decades ago, Ted Turner introduced Americans to 24/7 news for the first time with CNN not out of New York of Washington D.C., but Atlanta.

Turner’s innovation soon became an institution, spawning rivals. CNN also placed Atlanta on the map for news.

Now this month, a new 24/7 news operation has launched in Atlanta called Newsy under significantly different circumstances.

In 1980, CNN was competing in a limited news world largely fed by daily newspapers, evening TV broadcasts and weekly newsmagazines. CNN took years to become the profit machine it is now because cable was such a new medium at the time.

In contrast, Newsy today faces a world saturated in news, from smartphone news alerts to multiple cable networks to apps at your fingertips.

Newsy, owned by Cincinnati-based E.W. Scripps Company, is currently headquartered in office space in Buckhead next to sister station Court TV with 13 other domestic bureaus. It’s the first ever American all-news operation available as a free, over-the-air broadcast network. At the same time, Newsy can be viewed on its website, its app and a raft of services such as Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Pluto and Google Chromecast.

As a result, the company said it’s already available in more than 90% of households.

Newsy’s approach is decidedly unsexy: straight news, no chaser. It features no big-name anchors, plenty of even-handed news packages and a steady diet of interviews with experts and Newsy correspondents.

This past Thursday morning, the “Morning Rush” program featured an extensive news report about the re-opening of the U.S. border to visitors after the long COVID-19-related shutdown, an interview with the attorney for Ahmaud Arbery and a light-hearted discussion with a minor-league baseball manager regarding automated umpiring for balls and strikes.

“The world is hungry for good information,” said Eric Ludgood, head of Newsy who has previously worked at CNN, Fox 5 (WAGA-TV) and CBS46 (WGCL-TV) in Atlanta. “The demand already exists. We are focused on unopinionated, fact-based content. We think people want that. And our stories are not rushed. We will ask the extra questions.”

The question is: will enough people watch to make the investment worthwhile?

Credit: NEWSY

Credit: NEWSY

Frank Sesno, a former CNN anchor and reporter who is now director of strategic initiatives at George Washington University, isn’t sure.

He himself watched CNN shift its focus after struggling for years to build consistent audiences as the news cycle waxed and waned. After he left in 2001, the network began creating more personality-based prime-time shows and evergreen series focused on food, pop culture, social issues and history by the likes of Lisa Ling and Anthony Bourdain that had nothing to do with breaking news.

“Audiences crave personality,” Sesno said. “People watch people. You can grab headlines anywhere. The key for Newsy is how are they going to become memorable for their audience. How do they make themselves binge viewing?”

Newsy is not a pure start up. It was launched in 2008 out of Missouri, selling digital stories to places like Huffington Post and Mashable. E.W. Scripps purchased the operation in 2014 for $35 million and by 2017, Newsy was available on many cable networks and places like Roku.

But Scripps wants a bigger piece of the ad-dollar pie news networks generate. CNN, MSNBC and Fox News collectively generated $5.8 billion in revenue last year, according to Kagan, a media research group in S&P Global Market Intelligence.

With its deliberate move to Atlanta, staff expansion and wider distribution, Newsy is positioning itself as a fresh arrival.

“I don’t compare us to CNN or anybody else,” said Kate O’Brian, Ludgood’s boss, overseeing both Newsy and Court TV. “We are a start up. They are well established. I’m not going to put us in that same realm.”

New York City remains the heart of the American news universe. It’s where most national news programs originate. The key decision makers at CNN, a quarter century removed from Turner’s ownership, are now based in Manhattan. While the network still has an ample employee base in Atlanta, including the heart of its digital and international operations, WarnerMedia recently decided to sell CNN Center and will lease the space instead.

A CNN spokesperson did not respond to an inquiry about how many employees CNN currently has in Atlanta, but the network has 4,000 employees worldwide.

Newsy is starting its reinvention with 80 employees in Atlanta and 35 reporters, some based in cities like Nashville, Denver and Seattle.

“We hired people with expertise in certain areas,” O’Brian said. “We want coverage of indigenous America, rural affairs, things happening in Middle America. Faith and family. Southern culture. We want it to look a little different from what is traditionally done by a national news network.”

MaryLynn Ryan, vice president of news at Georgia Public Broadcasting who spent 26 years at CNN, said she believes Newsy is filling a hole for “objective, balanced journalism in an age of disinformation where media sources are now being more carefully scrutinized... Ultimately, the more unbiased information out there, the better.”

Newsy isn’t the only news operation expanding in Atlanta. Axios recently hired several reporters and created an Atlanta-based newsletter. The Black News Channel, a Tallahassee, Florida-based 24/7 cable news operation which launched last year, has an intention to move to Atlanta in the next year or two. About one-quarter of its 320 employees now work in Atlanta.

There is also a major expansion drive by Atlanta-based Gray Television, which owns local TV stations in 101 markets including Albany, Savannah and Augusta. It’s in the midst of buying TV stations from Iowa-based Meredith Corp., including CBS46 (WGCL-TV) and Peachtree TV (WPCH-TV) for $2.7 billion and building a major multi-use development on the land that once housed the General Motors plant in Doraville.

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

The Weather Channel has been an Atlanta staple going back to the early 1980s. Allen Media Group, owned by entrepreneur Byron Allen, purchased the network in 2018 for $300 million.

Tom O’Brien, president of The Weather Channel, said Allen has remained fully committed to keeping the network in Atlanta, with 400 employees based in its headquarters off I-75 and I-285. Allen’s company last December bought the building itself.

“This is a phenomenally dynamic marketplace,” O’Brien said. “Byron felt strongly enough with the opportunities here to double down in Atlanta. We’re constantly upgrading our studios. We just installed 4K cameras last year.”

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