Sonja Gantt aims newscast in new direction

Come Monday, WCNC (Channel 36) will launch a 4 p.m. news hour that won't look or sound like the station's more traditional newscasts.

Anchored by Sonja Gantt, "NewsChannel 36 at 4:00" will feature debriefs with reporters returning from stories, interview questions from viewers through Facebook, and include features on real estate, health and the celebrity scene.

It will be a newscast on the move, with Gantt standing at a glass high-top table and sometimes going into the adjacent newsroom to talk about the story behind the story with reporters, or heading next door to NBC News Channel, which coordinates national coverage for the network's affiliates.

"We're going to take time to have a conversation," says Gantt. "I'm not just going to be out there by myself doing a headline news show."

Gantt will be sole anchor joined by station personalities focusing on speciality topics: Kellie Patterson on health, Dion Lim on daily deals and Colleen Odegaard on pop culture and entertainment. Bobby Sisk, who has cut a niche reporting on real estate trends and getting viewers a peek inside lavish mansions, will contribute.

Gantt believes the audience will be primarily people at home or hitting the treadmill at the gym. It brings WCNC in direct competition with WBTV (Channel 3), which fills the 4 p.m. hour with back-to-back newscasts anchored by Jamie Boll and Brigida Mack.

Delivering the news standing up or talking about stories with reporters is nothing new - Maureen O'Boyle takes a similar approach on her 7 p.m. "WBTV News Prime Time" show with Jeff Atkinson. But it's a departure for WCNC, which tended to use more traditional sets on key newscasts.

"It's a style thing," says Corrie Harding, Channel 36's news director. "I want the show to feel energetic - not leaning back in a chair."

Many stations are expanding their local news offerings because the cost of syndicated material has risen and because stations expect a deluge of political advertising this year, which is often aimed at news audiences.

Harding said neither was a factor in the decision to expand at 4. It just seemed like a better time for news, he said. WCNC's hour-long noon report will be cut to 30 minutes to make way for "Judge Judy," which had been airing at 4:30 p.m.

Gantt, a Charlotte native and daughter of former mayor Harvey Gantt, joined Channel 36 in 1997 from Chicago station WGN. She has been anchoring the 6 and 11 p.m. news shows since.

She will continue on the 6 p.m. report with Dave Wagner. Lim, who came from the ABC affiliate in Kansas City in 2010, will replace Gantt at 11 p.m.

"I've been doing the same shows for 14 years," Gantt says. "This is new, and it will push me a little."

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