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ORLANDO SENTINEL PREPARES TO LAUNCH TV SERVICE All-news channel to draw content from newspaper in 'round-the-clock cable endeavor

On Oct. 29, the Orlando Sentinel will take the first step toward becoming a true multimedia news source with the debut of Central Florida News 13, a 50/50 joint venture of the Tribune Co. and Time Warner Communications.

It will be the first local all-news cable channel able to draw content continuously -- day and night -- from a local newspaper. "We really are pioneering something here," said John Haile, editor of Tribune's Sentinel, by integrating "the news operation of the Orlando Sentinel with the news operation of Newschannel 13."

Almost 100 people at the 280,000-circulation morning daily have worked for months to establish rules of the new, televised road, including gauging the impact on reporters who will be called upon to answer questions put to them by the channel's anchors, either in the newsroom or at the scene of a story.

The Sentinel newsroom was revamped to put a multimedia desk at the center. A deputy managing editor will oversee the desk, joined by the on-line services editor for the paper's web site, the graphics editor, photo editor and primary local news editor.

"From that desk we will track every story from its origin," Haile said, to multiple destinations -- print, on-line, television.

How might a reporter's day go?

"We may ask the reporter to step out of a meeting at 11 a.m. to do a debrief with the anchor at Channel 13, then we may ask for a two-graph blurb for the on-line service in midafternoon, after which he or she would write a story for the Sentinel."

The print version may not be the first to carry breaking news, Haile said.

"If we think it's a story that everyone will get before the day's over, we'll put it on the air," he said. "If it's an exclusive for the newspaper, we'll decide whether to put it in the paper first."

The service will be carried on Channel 13 on all Time Warner cable systems in four counties, reaching 400,000 homes, according to Diane Pickett, Time Warner's vice president for public affairs.

Modeled after CNN Headline News, with a 30-minute wheel of local news, weather, traffic reports, an update on national and world news, and sports, the service will compete with four all-news channels among the 81 channels -- including premium and pay-per-view -- to which many subscribers have access.

"We're offering local news on demand," said Craig Hume, general manager of Central Florida News 13. He directs a staff of 60 people -- on-air and support personnel -- who will work with the 350 Sentinel newspeople to cover events as warranted.

The newswheel will be interrupted if a breaking story merits continuous coverage. There are limits, though.

"If there's a major fire, we'll certainly cover that," Hume said, "but we don't intend to use all of our crews to chase fire engines or shoot any scene where police put crime tape up."

For the Sentinel, the joint venture will ensure "that our company makes the transition from being a traditional newspaper publisher to being a multimedia information company," Haile said. His path seems easy compared to the one Newsday blazed in the early '80s.

Newsday also had a TV news desk in the middle of its newsroom when it inaugurated a cable service the name of which Managing Editor Howard Schneider can't remember. It failed after about a year, largely because "we learned quickly that you could not just transfer print onto television."

The Newsday operation "lacked sophistication," Schneider said. Undertaken entirely by the paper, the 8 o'clock newscast "sometimes started at 8:04, or 8:07." Filling the many hours between the live one-hour broadcast and repeats of it was videotext, and "people did not have much of an appetite for videotext," he said.

Schneider cited two ironies: After the facility at Newsday went dark, the local cable system launched an all-news channel that not only survives, it's carrying a weekly program from Newsday drawing from the paper's ongoing project -- a 273-part history of Long Island.

-- P.W.
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Date:Oct 27, 1997
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