WJLA parent company Allbritton Communications announced today that it had struck a deal to sell WJLA, local cable channel NewsChannel 8, and 6 other local TV stations to Sinclair, which is based in Hunt Valley, Maryland. The deal, worth $985 million, will add to Sinclair’s portfolio of nearly 150 television stations across the country.
The deal is not expected to close until the end of the year, while the companies wait for federal regulatory approval. No changes to the station are planned in the meantime, but newsroom employees worry that Sinclair — which is conservative in its politics and in its fiscal management — may cut jobs and make other changes once the deal is approved.
“Everybody [is] shitting bricks,” one newsroom source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told ARLnow.com. “[The] mood is very tense. Everyone thinks there’ll be massive cutbacks and reductions in the next year. Not a single person is happy about the new owners.”
WJLA currently employs about 240 part-time and full-time newsroom employees, according to station General Manager Bill Lord. That doesn’t include station advertising and business staff.
One thing not likely to change in the near future, says Jerry Fritz, Senior Vice President for Legal and Strategic Affairs at Allbritton Communications, is the station’s location in Rosslyn.
“We have a long-term lease here and we believe we’ll be staying here,” Fritz told ARLnow.com.
It was announced in May that the Allbritton family was seeking a buyer for its television holdings. The announcement came five months after Joe L. Allbritton, whose initials were used as the call letters for WJLA, passed away at 87. His son, Robert Allbritton, said he would use proceeds from the sale of the stations to concentrate on another asset, Politico, and invest in internet ventures.
In a statement, Allbritton said he hopes the stations he’s selling will “reach new heights” under the new ownership.
“Sinclair is the ideal buyer of our superb television stations,” he said. “Its existing reach and history of innovation matches exceptionally well with our long tradition of viewer service and news gathering excellence. David Smith and his team have been a pleasure to work with. I am confident that their leadership and resources will enable our stations to reach new heights of service to our communities.”