TV news is supposed to be an endangered species, going the way of the spotted owl and parachute pants. So what in the name of Edward R. Murrow is the Hubbard family doing by investing nearly $400,000 in a new set?

The space-age digs, which would make Capt. James T. Kirk feel downright cozy, give KSTP, the local ABC affiliate, an HD-friendly makeover and provide a home for two new programs on its sister operation, KSTC, Ch. 45, a station that hasn't had a local-news presence since early 2003.

Starting today, KSTC will launch a two-hour morning show, hosted by Vineeta Sawkar, Art Barron and Rebekah Wood, as well as a 9 p.m. broadcast that will go head-to-head with the first half of KMSP, Ch. 9's program, providing the same kind of hard-news, local stories that define KSTP's newscasts.

"We believe that there is an opportunity for more news, especially at 7 a.m. and 9 p.m.," said KSTC general manager Susan Wenz, pointing to trends in Seattle and Oklahoma that suggest viewers want information at more convenient times. "We believe this is our future."

KSTC's shows were supposed to debut June 14, the same day KSTP unveiled its new look, but a plumbing problem led to a mini-flood, forcing a one-month delay.

What viewers will now see at night is a half-hour format short on sports (most games won't be over by the time the show ends) and long on one-on-one interviews with reporters who might still be in the midst of nailing down a story.

"The sky's the limit," said 9 p.m. anchor Megan Newquist, who recently moved here from Lexington, Ky. "This gives me a great opportunity, and we're not expecting gigantic numbers." (Wenz said she'd be thrilled with a 1.0 rating from key demographics in prime time and a .5 rating in the a.m.)

Sprucing up a set and adding new content might seem unwise in these tricky economic times when young viewers are as likely to get their news from Twitter as they are from Cyndy Brucato, but one local-news expert points out that the Hubbard family is in a unique position to expand when others might be shrinking.

"They're different because they don't have wide ownership," said Al Tompkins, a broadcast instructor at the Florida-based Poynter Institute, a well-respected media think tank. "The owners that also have newspapers are in a much more vulnerable position, because newspapers are in much worse shape than broadcasters. In a market like yours, where the economy is more diversified and robust, you can still invest in local news."

Tompkins did seem somewhat surprised, however, that the Hubbards would plunk down so much for the new sets, arranged directly across from each other.

"That's a little unusual," he said. "News sets don't generate income. It's a common tactic for a station to try to do something in the ratings by jumbling anchors around or building a new set, but that's not what attracts viewers."

Mike Smith, director of programming for both Hubbard entities in the Twin Cities, said a new, more three-dimensional look was necessary to adapt to the high-definition era. To that end, HD viewers will pick up more textures and more levels, thanks to a white-cedar scheme throughout everything from the weather station to the interview corner.

"It's got more sophistication," he said.

That won't mean anything, though, if KSTC can't budge closer to the ratings being brought in by local leaders KARE, Ch. 11, and KSTP, Ch. 5, a mission that would make even Kirk sweat a little. • 612-673-7431