Media General Shedding WJAR As Part of Merger With LIN Media

Aug 20, 2014

Media General, which announced plans earlier this year to merge with LIN Media, the parent of WPRI-TV (Channel 12), is shedding WJAR-TV (Channel 10) as part of the deal.

Sinclair Broadcast Group will acquire WJAR, while Media General will acquire some Sinclair properties, according to this release on LIN Media's Web site. The changes are part of a series of deals to meet regulatory concerns.

WPRI has been increasing its profile and ratings in recent years, while spending money on things like the political poll, co-sponsored by the Providence Journal, featured in coverage this week. An inside view at WJAR suggests Maryland-based Sinclair will represent stability at the station.

"We're pleased to announce this divestiture plan, which we believe should clear the way for our business combination with LIN Media to move forward in the regulatory approval process," George L. Mahoney, Media General's president and CEO, said in a statement. He called the stations being divested "strong performers, adding, "We are proud of the work that they have done, and we wish the employees at these stations all the best as they transition to new ownership."

Alan Schroeder, a professor of journalism at Northeastern University in Boston, says deals like Media General's selling of WJAR resemble "a little bit of a chessboard, where the overall strategy may not be apparent just on the surface, but within the corporate context, there's probably some rationale that they have for thinking this is a good idea."

Schroeder says Sinclair Broadcast has a reputation as a very conservative company, and "sometimes that corporate conservatism" has moved over "into its coverage as well. So over the years, there have been some controversies with Sinclair Broadcast just on the basis of the sort of political ideology of the higher ups in the company."

Richmond, Virginia-based Media General's move to buy LIN Media for $1.6 billion on March 21 quickly got overshadowed that day by how state and federal investigators had raided the home and Statehouse office of then-House Speaker Gordon Fox.

Both WPRI and WJAR have had a series of different owners over the years, and the precise impact of the merger will take time to become evident.

WPRI GM Patrick Wholey offered this statement: "We are excited to be part of the Media General-LIN Media combined company's future. WPRI Providence, FOX Providence and MyRITV have worked hard to deliver the very best news, weather, sports, information and programming to our local community and we will continue our relentless focus on serving our viewers and advertisers."

WJAR GM Vic Vetters referred a request for comment to Media General's corporate communications office.

LIN Media, formerly based in Providence, moved its headquarters to  Austin, Texas. Media General began with the founding of a newspaper, the Richmond Dispatch, in 1850, according to a company history. In 2012, Media General sold all its newspaper holdings.

Regarding the Media General-LIN Media merger, John Carroll, a professor of communication at Boston University, says, "One of the reasons you do these kind of mergers is to create cost efficiencies, but also to increase your clout. So when they go to cable providers to get retransmission fees for their stations, they have now [a larger number of] stations. That gives them more bargaining power than they might have had before."

Carroll says Media General "has a reasonable reputation" and bounced back from being near "serious financial problems" by selling its newspaper operation.