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DC’s WTOP Radio restructures newsroom for digital

DC’s WTOP Radio restructures newsroom for digital

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WASHINGTON — One of the nation’s top-grossing radio stations announced plans Wednesday to reorganize and expand its Washington newsroom to make online news as high a priority as radio and in some cases break news online first.

Washington’s WTOP Radio said it aims to become a full multi-platform news operation by changing the way it does business. Instead of taking broadcast stories and fitting them onto WTOP’s website, the station says it will have digital editors and radio editors staffed 24 hours a day and working together to optimize stories for radio, web, mobile and social media all at once.

The move comes as WTOP faces increased radio competition, though it remains the top-rated station in the Washington region, according to Arbitron figures. CBS Radio announced last month that it will launch an all-news station in Washington next year. CBS also operates profitable all-news local stations in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and other cities. In Washington, public radio station WAMU-FM also draws a large news audience.

Jim Farley, WTOP’s vice president of news, said his station’s strategy is unique and aimed at competing with newspapers, TV stations or anyone online.

“Other radio stations are cutting and cutting and cutting, and we think the path to growth is investing in your product,” he said. “And to the best of my knowledge, there is no other radio station in the United States doing this, dual desks 24/7.”

Previously, WTOP made radio its primary focus, breaking news first on its broadcasts. But the station won’t be holding stories back from the web any longer because “that’s where the growth is,” Farley said. Its primary audience will continue to be the District of Columbia and the Maryland and Virginia suburbs.

By January, the station expects to have a newsroom staff of 112 full- and part-time journalists. It has added more than 20 positions over the past year, Farley said.

WTOP’s 2010 ad revenue topped all other U.S. radio stations at more than $57 million, according to research firm BIA/Kelsey. It’s significant that WTOP is surpassing stations in the top markets of New York City and Los Angeles in revenue because Washington is ranked as the ninth-largest market by population.

Mark Fratrik, BIA/Kelsey’s vice president and chief economist, said WTOP’s new owner Hubbard Broadcasting Corp. has shown a commitment to moving its stations to a digital focus faster than the rest of the industry.

“What WTOP is showing here is radio stations have to adapt and think about how are we going to get our information to our audiences,” he said.

Salt Lake City-based Bonneville International, a for-profit arm of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, sold WTOP and 16 other radio stations in January to Minneapolis-based Hubbard, which is family owned.

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