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UGA to buy Toccoa television station
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The University of Georgia Research Foundation has reached an agreement to acquire WNEG-TV, channel 32, from its current owner, Media General Inc., both entities announced Wednesday.

The station soon will be operated by the University of Georgia through its Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication.

The pending sale will move the Toccoa-based television station to Athens in 2009.

The university will continue to run the station with a commercial television license.

The university plans to keep WNEG-TV’s current staff, said E. Culpepper Clark, dean of the Grady College of Journalism.

"We certainly intend to work with existing staff going forward; they’re going to be a part of UGA and the Grady College, and we welcome that opportunity," Clark said.

The sale of the station will be final in mid-October, Clark said, and at first, the station will remain a Toccoa-based station. The station’s programming will evolve with the changing of hands.

The university plans to explore the use of "citizen journalism," and in the future the station’s viewers in Northeast Georgia can generate some of the content and advertising, Clark said.

With the station, the university’s research foundation will explore how local communities generate content about themselves and what role television has in civic engagement, Clark said.

"We certainly want to empower the community," Clark said.

At the same time, Clark and Ann Hollifield, the head of the Department of Telecommunications, say the station will retain its professional identity.

"It will remain a commercial television station," Hollifield said. "It’s not educational or public broadcasting."

"... The key thing is ... it is a professional operation and is going to remain so."

However, the university’s acquisition of the station will open opportunities for education.

"The new WNEG will provide students and faculty with new ways to experience and use media," Clark said. "Indeed, all units that comprise the university will have at their disposal the means to create and distribute programming that informs, entertains and inspires the best — in short, media as we know it can be."

The commercial station will serve Northeast Georgia with local interest programming, built primarily around local news and public affairs programming, and featuring UGA academic, cultural and athletic events.

When the sale is complete, the station will no longer be a CBS affiliate, but Hollifield said she expects the station still to provide some syndicated programming along with a large amount of local programming.

WNEG-TV employees were not able to comment on the sale of the station Wednesday afternoon, said Jimmy Sanders, the station’s current general manager. Sanders did tell The Times that employees had been aware of the negotiations between the university and Media General, and the employees received official word of the sale agreement Wednesday morning.

The sale of the station, which will bring in about $100 million for Media General, also will help the Virginia-based media company reduce its debt, according to a news release Media General sent to its employees Wednesday morning.

Transfer of the license for the television station is subject to approval by the Federal Communications Commission and will likely be approved in the fall.