WTTG-TV anchors to run own prompter on-air

In an apparent attempt to save money, WTTG, channel 5, in Washington, D.C., wants its news anchors — not technicians — to run their own teleprompters while on the air.

Known as Fox5, WTTG intends to train its newscasters to operate prompters using a series of hand levers and foot pedals while they’re reading the news on the air. Technicians normally assigned the duty will be reassigned, the station said.

Phil Metlin, Fox5’s news director, told employees the change was part of a “corporate directive” from Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. “We have purchased new equipment including foot pedals and hand controls. In the coming weeks, we will begin placing this equipment throughout our studios and we will begin a vigorous training program. Our goal is to use this equipment flawlessly,” Metlin wrote in a staff memo.

Staff members of the station, who would not be quoted by name, said the situation could be either “comic” or “awful” as the anchors fumble to find the right spots in their scripts. They also say that viewers may notice some awkward cranking and pumping beneath the anchor desk.

One station staff member said that instead of orchestrating coverage, fact-checking, handling breaking news, paying attention to the [newscast], engaging reporters, questioning authorities, covering bad writing and technical mistakes, anchors will now spend most of their time running the prompter.

“It’s kind of like a literal one-man band — singing, banging a drum, crashing cymbals, playing a trumpet and strumming a guitar . . . except we’re not playing show tunes here,” the staffer added.

Duffy Dyer, the station’s general manager, said that some anchors actually prefer operating the prompter themselves so they can be in complete control of speed and pauses.

Smaller market stations often require talent to run their own prompters, but until now the practice has been unheard of at larger market stations.