Why are Veteran Talent Leaving WJLA?

By Kevin Eck 

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Over the last three years Sinclair-owned Washington, D.C. ABC affiliate WJLA has seen the departures of longtime anchor Maureen Bunyan, NewsTalk host Bruce DePuyt, anchors Leon Harris and Gordon Peterson, sports anchors Alex Parker and Tim Brant and entertainment reporter Arch Campbell.

The Washingtonian chalks it up to one thing: money.

The Washingtonian makes the point that the plans Sinclair had when it bought the station from Allbritton in 2014 haven’t quite panned out the way it wanted.

The question appears to be whether all this disruption is driven by low ratings — WJLA’s evening newscasts are in third place in the area — or the more than $4 billion in debt Sinclair has taken on to fund its expansion, which also includes Tennis Channel, the sci-fi channel Comet, and the millennial-focused digital-media property Circa. You need a lot of revenue to hold a debt that large; the company expected debt service, stock buybacks, and dividends to account for nearly half its cash flow in 2016.

But low ratings and a weak political ad spend by then-presidential candidate Donald Trump haven’t brought in the money the station group was hoping for.

Add in the hundreds of younger anchors at smaller markets willing to work for less in a larger market and older more established vets who make more money aren’t so attractive to employers anymore.

Sinclair told The Washingtonian that’s not true, though.

Sinclair says no financial pressures from above led to the beloved TV personalities’ exits: The “suggestion that financial decisions were the driving concern behind recent changes is false,” Livingston says. Local stations, not corporate, he explains, make the decisions, which are “guided by ratings, our long-term strategy, and the evolving needs of our viewers.”