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Stations use GPS to dispatch ENG crews


WJLA and NewsChannel 8 merged its news operation last August. And now the ABC affiliate has installed global-positioning-system (GPS) equipment in all of the company-owned vehicles used by its ENG crews. (Pictured: WJLA and NewsChannel 8's broadcast center)

Reporters and photographers at WJLA-TV (Channel 7), in Washington, D.C., hardly miss a story these days, now that the ABC affiliate has installed global-positioning-system (GPS) equipment in all of the company-owned vehicles used by its ENG crews. Although the staff initially balked at its use, citing privacy issues, station managers said the equipment is used to dispatch crews quickly to cover breaking news, not to spy on them when they are on the road.

If a WJLA-TV newsroom manager learns of a house fire in nearby Reston, Va., they can plug the home's address into a GPS terminal and determine which of the news crews in the field can respond the fastest.

However, some staff members think the technology invades their privacy. “It's a very uneasy feeling as you leave the building every day, knowing that your boss knows where you are at all times," one WJLA photographer, who asked not to be identified, told the The Washington Times newspaper.

Allbritton Communications, which owns WJLA and its sister cable network, NewsChannel 8, completed the installation of GPS equipment in its fleet of about 40 news vehicles late last month. No other local television newsroom in the Washington area uses the technology, although it is common at stations in other cities.

WJLA and NewsChannel 8 merged its news operation last August, creating the largest local television newsroom in Washington. The combined operation is based in Arlington, Va. and has about 300 employees.

"We have a staff that is 50 percent larger than our biggest competitor. We want to make maximum use of it," said Christopher W. Pike, president and general manager of WJLA and NewsChannel 8, in an interview with the Washington Times.

Pike said that Allbritton eventually wants to introduce on-air maps that will show viewers the location of a breaking news event and the location of the crew on its way to the scene.

For more information visit www.wjla.com.

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