A new hand on the newsroom helm down on the river

I see it’s official that Bruce Moore from WVEC in Norfolk, Virginia will take over the news director post at the end of January. He brings some strong credentials with him and I would assume some strong leadership as well. They may need it in the newsroom down on the river with the changes underway including the loss of two primary anchors in the month of December.
I was thinking back to the news directors that I had seen at 3 since January 1989 when I arrived there and how after talking to coworkers over the years, there seemed to be a cycle of strong (headstrong) directors followed by a not so strong news director.
It started with Bill Berra who hired me. He had taken over after the departure of Ray Pohlman I believe. Berra along with his strong-arm executive produce Shawn Briggs ran a pretty tight ship at 3 with Briggs being the muscle to bully people around. Briggs would have lasted about two seconds in the current HR era of NYT policy. Still, he was a helluva story idea man. I think this team has worked together in other markets in St. Louis, Florida and Milwaukee. When they came to 3, they had T-shirts printed up that stated, “We’re here to stay”. This was a big deal since there had been so much turmoil and so many departures when they arrived. They stayed 18-months.
Dave Cochran, a former EP out of Baltimore, followed them. He was a mousy little guy who seemed to be more interested in watching game shows during the afternoon crunch than looking over a script for deadline. He didn’t inspire a lot of confidence in the newsroom and it seems to me he left after about nine months to a year. One of the last things he did before departing was saddle me with a 21-part series that was sponsored. I damned near died when he did that and then a couple of days later announced he was leaving.
The next news director was Tim Morrissey, who had left the NYT’s Scranton station for a post as News Director in Baltimore before coming to Memphis. I really liked Tim and he was one of my favorite ND’s to work for. Maybe it was because he managed to get the 21 part series knocked down to just 14. Tim was there for about two years and was an innovator. I understand he is well liked in his current position as GM at NYT’s KFOR in Oklahoma City.
When he left Bob Jacobs, the assistant ND took over the post and in my humble opinion, I thought the strong/not so strong news director cycle had been broken. Maybe it was because I really liked Bob as well. Unfortunately, Bob was escorted out one day and to this day, no one really seems to know why, including Bob who told me he asked for an explanation from the higher ups. I think it was just politics at the corporate level that apparently felt they needed a place for someone they felt was a rising star and they felt Bob was expendable.
They brought in Craig Jahelka as ND from the NYT’s Huntsville station where he was also ND. I credit Craig with changing the face of weather coverage in Memphis, as we know it. In all fairness, he propelled WHNT to the number one post in that market and he planned to do it in Memphis as well through weathergasms as they were known around the newsroom. This was a guy who would walk around the newsroom during ratings muttering that we just needed some really bad weather to break out. He implemented the wall-to-wall coverage of weather when tornado warnings went out. I remember the first time it happened. He saw that a warning had gone out for Lee County and told the Noon on air staff of weather anchor Todd Demers and news anchor Pam Crittendon to stay on the air until this tornado warning for Lee County was over. He didn’t want to hear any excuses when some people tried to protest. Afterwards when it was revealed to him that the county under the tornado warning was NOT
Lee County, Arkansas
, which is in the Memphis ADI but rather Lee County, Mississippi, which is not, I think that took a little wind out of sails. I think it’s safe to say that Craig brought a more tabloid style of flash to 3. And I think it was politics that got him into 3 and politics that led to him leaving. He didn’t like Memphis and told me on more than one occasion how much he didn’t care for it. This, he said, was merely a stopping point on his way to a GM post. I credit Craig with changing the culture of the newsroom at 3. He was there about five years. He is now a GM in Bakersfield.
The next news director was Michele Gors Paris. On one hand, she was at the helm when 3 won an Emmy for news excellence and a Murrow award. On the other hand, at least after conferring with co-workers at the time, she was not considered a strong leader. If the consultant or GM suggested it, we did it. Still, an anchor at 3 told me that it was still preferable to the policies of the previous regime. I think if there had been stronger people skills in place and perhaps she had been able to respond to questions about policy faster, then she would have inspired more confidence from the troops. She appeared to be on the fast track to a GM post before she decided to take a ND post closer to her folks so that her children would get to know their grandparents.
So now we get to Bruce Moore. He arrives during the anniversary year of WREG. They celebrate 50-years in 2006 and word has it that the goal is to be Number 1 in all the time slots in local news. That looks like it’s attainable in some time periods but it’s going to be a hard fought win in others. Bruce, we’re looking forward to seeing how that Moore magic will make it happen.

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4 Comments on “A new hand on the newsroom helm down on the river”

  1. Spook86 Says:

    I’m a former Mid-Southerner who now resides in the Hampton Roads, Virginia area–the DMI served by Bruce Moore’s former employer, WVEC. For the record, I don’t know Mr. Moore, although a couple of his former co-workers attend my church, and I know them casually.

    From what they tell me, Bruce Moore was well-regarded during his 15-year tenure at Channel 13, which culminated in a stint as Assistant News Director. However, he never got the “brass ring” at WVEC, and was passed over for the ND position in Sept 05, when Belo (Channel 13’s parent company) brought in the news director from their Spokane station (KREM), to run WVEC’s newsroom.

    Mr. Moore deserves a lot of credit for helping sharpen and focus Channel 13’s product. He was part of a management team that pushed WVEC to the top of the ratings heap; Channel 13 is currently #1 in all timeslots, except for the 11 pm newscast, where it finishes in second place. Of course, it’s worth remembering that Norfolk is essentially a two-station fight; the local CBS affiliate (WTKR–owned by the NYT) is an absolute disaster; their 6 pm newscast routinely finishes in fifth place, and they’re currently short 3-4 photographers, and almost as many producers.

    But Mr. Moore isn’t the only reason WVEC is now the top station in Hampton Roads. Belo poured a lot of money into the station, and it shows–crisp graphics, a very nice set, and the best reporters in the market.

    As you ask, can Moore work the same magic at WREG? Hard to say. He’s never been a ND before, and he may find himself more resource constrained in Memphis. As you know, the NYT Company has some serious financial problems, and management is under orders to cut costs whenever and wherever possible. He may find the checkbook isn’t quite as open in Memphis as it was in years past.

    BTW, your blog fills a real void in Memphis media circles. I read–and respect–Peggy Phillip’s comments, but you always have to remember that she’s got a dog in the fight, and she’ll present Channel 5 in the most favorable light.

    Keep up the good work, and get back on the air soon.

  2. Joe Larkins Says:

    Thanks for the comments and sorry it’s taken me so long to respond on this one.
    I think focus can help down on the river. Some inside sources tell me that for the last several months, the person at the helm was just going through the motions before the departure for points north and west. I don’t know that for a fact. I can only tell you what the insiders say. Having said that, I can say like any newsroom, there are some real workhorses down there on the bluff and then there are those who are just coasting. Some of the workhorses can flat out crank out the stuff.
    As I’ve mentioned previously, the word on the street is that if the mojo doesn’t happen this year, heads will roll as cuts are made. A lot of money has been poured into that operation already, from a new chopper to expanded operations and new work areas. NYT is ready for some payoff as promised when they started to pony up the money. I know I’d like to see them do well as my NYT stock has really tanked over the past year.
    On that note, a former bigwig with the company told me the problem is a lack of direction at the highest level. That person said “the problem is the NYT newspaper wants to be television and the TV stations want to be the internet.” I guess it’s just another step in the evolution of the news business.
    One final thought, I appreciate the kind comments about the blog. As to whether I get back on the air….I’ll get back to you on that one.

  3. Spook86 Says:

    Having watched Channels 5 and 3 for years, there’s no reason WREG can’t be #1, but I think the one-year timeline mandated by the NYT company may be a bit unrealistic.

    Let’s face it: viewing habits die hard, and Channel 5 puts out a good product, though not necessarily better than Channel 3. Watching the news at 5–on Channel 5–is a habit for many viewers, and they need a reason to break that habit. I remember WREG’s infamous 5 pm “new car giveaway” during the May sweeps a few years back. It pulled Channel 3 to within a cat’s whisker of Channel 5, but while viewers tuned in, they didn’t see anything that compelled them to stick around.

    What I find interesting is that Channel 3 plans to “take the hill” in 2006, without a primary male or female anchor. Based on your comments, it looks like Richard Ransom hasn’t been annointed heir apparent (at least not yet), and Pam McKelvey left the station a few days ago. Common sense says you need an established anchor team at 5, 6 and 10 if you want to unseat the top dog. Do you think a Richard Ransom-Markova Reed combination would work? I’ve got my doubts–or, let’s just say that there would be some on-air growing pains that wouldn’t be helpful in the ratings wars. Channel 3 obviously needs another female anchor, and (perhaps) another male anchor as well. Solving that problem would appear to be one his top priorities, along with revitalizing the staff, and getting everyone on the yoke, and pulling in the same direction.

    Finally, a question: Peggy Phillip claims that WPTY had its second “good book” in a row, and is finally making some noise in the ratings. I know you’re out of the business, but I was wondering if you see any indication that 24 is actually becoming a factor. Considering where they came from (a 1-3 rating for their 5 pm show a couple of years ago), WPTY could double their ratings, and still remain light years behind 5 and 3. Of course, Peggy has always insinuated that Channel 24’s “gains” (however modest) have come at the expense of Channel 3.

  4. Anonymous Says:

    Did Byron Day completely leave the business?

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