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Comcast's re-investment in NBC-owned stations is potentially a big story for NBC5's news department

Fort Worth-based NBC5 (KXAS) and the local news departments of nine other NBC owned-and-operated TV stations are finding it's good to be parented by Comcast.

Under an initiative officially announced Monday, Comcast's "major investment" in those stations will mean more reporters, an updated news set, the re-launch of an investigative unit and the return of a locally based promotions department for NBC5.

The latter was disbanded in September of 2009 by previous owner General Electric, which set up a new promotions division at its New York corporate offices to both control the messages of its O&Os and save money. Ten NBC5 staffers were laid off as part of the consolidation, which Comcast now has overturned.

"We welcome this because we know our market best and we can hire the appropriate people in our market to explain us and promote us," NBC5 vice president of programming Brian Hocker said in a telephone interview Tuesday.

The station also is re-launching an investigative/consumer unit that had been dormant for years. It will be headed by Kimberly King, who was hired by NBC5 in May from WXIN-TV in Indianapolis. A revamped news set also is in the works, but "we don't have the timetable yet," Hocker said.

In making the announcement, NBC Owned Television Stations president Valari Staab said that the network's 10 owned stations "have a responsibility to deliver critical local news and information to viewers in their respective communities each and every day. By making these strategic investments in our stations, we will ensure we meet our viewers' high expectations."

More than 130 additional news staffers will be hired by the 10 owned stations, NBC said.

"When all is said and done, we'll have a considerably greater number of feet on the street," Hocker said. "It'll give us the opportunity to 'enterprise' stories better. You get to a point where reporters are having to turn out a story each day. The additional staff gives us the opportunity to do more research on stories and not have to turn them out as fast.

"Clearly Comcast is investing in the owned local stations, and we are the beneficiary of that. It's very exciting. Arguably we've been very competitive in this market with what we've had to work with for some time. Having more resources is going to help us all the more, and I think that will be demonstrated on-air."

Hocker said that another cost-cutter under the old regime, NBC5's ongoing LNS (Local News Service) partnership with Fox4 and CW33, also could be ended as part of the station's re-investment in its own brand. "At this point there's nothing new on that, but clearly everything is under review," he said. Under the arrangement, the three stations share video and reporting on some stories.

NBC5 still hopes to move its operations to a planned new $16 million headquarters in the CentrePort office park south of Dallas-Fort Worth Airport. It's seeking a tax abatement from Fort Worth in return for staying within the city. The station currently remains at 3900 Barnett St. in Fort Worth, the only home it's ever known.

"It's a somewhat complicated deal, and it's not done until it's done," Hocker said. "We are still actively discussing CentrePort, but it's not signed yet. That's all there is to it."

Hocker noted that in 2012, the still ratings-challenged NBC network will have the Super Bowl and the Summer Olympics. Both big-ticket sports events are "certainly opportunities for us" to present a new-look NBC5 with a larger and more aggressive reporting staff, he said.