You’ve heard from local executives at the three local news affiliates during my recent Rip Van Winkle Tour over the last month since I returned to The Buffalo News.
In last week’s piece on Channel 4, general manager Chris Musial ended his defense of a staffer by saying “and you may disagree.”
I did. But it wasn’t the forum to say so.
Now it’s my turn.
Here is some free advice that executives from Channel 2, Channel 4 and Channel 7 can just as freely ignore. The stations are addressed in the reverse order of appearance in my local series.
Channel 4: Musial was laudably candid in assessing what went wrong and why the station has slipped from its dominant No. 1 position to arguably second place in the market to Channel 2.
I agree with him that several younger staffers are improving and that the station doesn’t get enough credit for the remaining veterans on the staff.
However, Musial lost some credibility with his defense of sportscaster Lauren Brill. He said more “and more [viewers] are embracing her” before adding “you may disagree.” I haven’t found one reader who doesn’t disagree. Many of my readers harshly consider her the worst hire in local TV history.
That may go too far, but she is in the conversation. This isn’t to say she doesn’t have talent; she has six state Emmy nominations in the last three years. However, her talent clearly isn’t in front of the camera.
I don’t know how practical it is union-wise, but perhaps Brill and sports producer Jay Harris could trade positions, with Harris going in front of the camera and Brill becoming an unseen sports producer until she gets more on-air training and a second chance. I believe in second chances.
I also agree with some readers that Channel 4 needs a third on-air sports personality more than it needs another investigative reporter. The station looks like amateur hour when it has news anchors doing sports on weekends.
The station’s set also looks a little old, which may be why Channel 4 has its anchors standing up to read the news more often in front of multiple TV sets to give the newscast a fresher look.
Channel 2: Since my piece, it has won more journalism awards, adding to its image as having the happiest staffers in town and heightening the idea that it could stay No. 1 for years as long as it doesn’t do something stupid. However, there have been some cracks in its stability, with veterans Jodi Johnston, Pete Gallivan and Ed Kilgore leaving in the last few months.
General manager Jim Toellner has done a good job preparing for people to leave and filling their spots. The decision to put Western New York native Melissa Holmes in Johnston’s “Daybreak” seat is paying off. Kelly Dudzik is a good hire and could fill one of the 5 or 10 p.m. anchor spots. Gallivan’s job might be tougher to fill.
The handling of Kilgore’s departure was uncharacteristically sloppy. A few days after announcing he was leaving to work for a company owned by Sabres owner Terry Pegula but while still working for the station, he acted as the emcee of the groundbreaking for Pegula’s downtown building project. It is one thing for viewers who don’t understand journalism ethics to think Kilgore could have worked for a TV station and an owner of a professional sports team simultaneously, quite another for a station owned by Gannett not to immediately understand the potential conflict.
Channel 2 is fortunate that Adam Benigni waited so long to get Kilgore’s job. Now it needs to find the next Benigni. It doesn’t need another Jonah Javad, who came bursting through with attitude months before viewers got to know him and he got to know Buffalo sports. Javad has potential, but he suffers from the kind of attitude issues that Channel 2 should guard against.
The station wants viewers to believe it is “on your side,” but at times all the playing to the audience and self-congratulation can get more than a little insufferable.
That was especially true in Kilgore’s on-air goodbye. Co-anchor Maryalice Demler said she was close to tears and co-anchor Scott Levin practically made Kilgore’s career look as noteworthy as that of Jim McKay and Bob Costas. None of it was believable.
The biggest danger to Channel 2’s long-term success is that self-serving attitude. I’d tone it down guys. The audience isn’t that stupid.
Channel 7: News director Polly Van Doren was pretty accurate in her assessment of what the station needs to do with a smaller and less experienced staff than its rivals. It was smart to keep veteran anchors Keith Radford and Joanna Pasceri, who are the primary reasons to watch the newscasts.
However, Eyewitness News needs to establish some sort of news image and to give local viewers a reason to try it again.
Channel 2 has a clear image of being “on your side,” Channel 4 lives off crime and wants everyone to think “nobody investigates like News 4.” What is Channel 7’s image?
In the glory days, it emphasized crime stories, personality and alliteration. I don’t know what it stands for now, and it doesn’t have much personality. It should pick something to specialize in and promote some of its better reporters – John Borsa immediately comes to mind – so they become personalities.
It also should spruce up the newscast’s look. Changing the set may be one of the biggest local news clichés, but Channel 7’s set looks like something out of the 1980s. It needs to spend some money to enter the 21st century.
A little humor might even work in a self-deprecating promotional campaign. How about a promo campaign that says something like “You used to love us. Will you give us another chance?”
As I wrote earlier in this column, I believe in second chances.