You could say that Channel 4 reporter George Richert got his next job because he has friends in high places.
About three weeks ago, he was at church at the funeral of the Rev. John Zeitler, his 83-year-old second cousin. It was an emotional day for Richert because the monsignor was more like a close uncle to him.
A friend that Richert has known for 30 years saw him after the funeral and told him about a job opening for director of communications for the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo.
“During this Mass, she thought, ‘I think George would be perfect for this,’ ” said Richert, replaying the scene. “She called me before I even left the church and had no idea I was even considering a move and alerted me to this job opening. I immediately thought it could be a very, very good fit. I’ve continued to think that.”
He ends his 17-year run at Channel 4 and 22-year run inside the Elmwood Avenue building (he previously worked at WBEN-AM when it used to be there) at the end of the month.
His move follows the departure of Channel 4 veteran reporter Rich Newberg and precedes by a month the departure of meteorologist Don Paul.
Almost a year ago I called Richert one of the most underrated reporters in the market. It has been said that there will never will another Rich Newberg or Don Paul. There also may never be another George Richert, a veteran male reporter.
That’s partially because it appears to be a job that at least at Channel 4 is more attractive to young females. It also is because the stress in the TV news business may burn out reporters at a much faster pace than in the past as they are required to carry their own cameras, post on social networks and do more and more.
It isn’t wise to jump to conclusions about what Richert’s departure means at Channel 4. The station isn’t trying to lower its costs at the expense of losing more experience.
Richert, one of the strongest remaining veteran reporters in local television news, has been thinking about leaving TV for a while.
“I’ve been kind of unhappy for about a year but couldn’t think of what I wanted to do. I didn’t actively look,” Richert said. I was just thinking, ‘what else could I do?’ ”
Sure, the changes in the business had something to do with his reasons for wanting to leave TV. I’m not sure anyone would want to be spending a lifetime standing outside in the cold for stories like the one Richert did Wednesday on plans to change Route 198.
“That is an accurate example of what I am tired of,” agreed Richert. “Things have been changing a lot for almost 10 years. It is not that I wasn’t able to handle them, it is just kind of a slow progression. Even more so, it is the changes in me.
“After years and years, the adrenaline rush of chasing news faded away. Not only did the news chase get less exciting for me, the little changes would just frustrate me a little bit more. And I think because I was getting older. Things that wouldn’t bother me before.
“I’m 48. I’m not old enough to claim to be a grumpy old man but I didn’t want to become a grumpy old man.”
He is thankful that Channel 4 General Manager Rene LaSpina and News Director Scott Levy let him out of his contract.
“They could have made it difficult for me,” said Richert. “They had the exact same response, that ‘we don’t want you to be unhappy’ and I am very thankful for that.”
He considers himself religious.
“I would consider myself as a very average Catholic,” said Richert. “I was born into a Catholic family and I never broke away. It has just been a way of life to me. I was born into it. I was raised in Catholic schools, youngest of a Catholic family of seven.”
He is taking the job that former WBEN reporter and anchor Kevin Keenan had until he started his own public relations business four years ago that included the diocese as a client.
Richert, who lives in Springville with his wife of 23 years and two teenage children, doesn’t believe his departure should be lumped in with those of Newberg or Paul.
“What separates them from me is they still had such zeal and a love for doing what they do,” Richert said. “That is a clear separation. I never did have the fire that Rich Newberg had for journalism. I never did have the fire for broadcasting the way Don Paul does. As far as I am concerned, to do what they do and have the impact they had until age 68 is profound and I couldn’t make it that far.”
He finished that line with a laugh.
“They made it, they made an impact and they go out on a high note.”
What note does he think he will be going out on?
“I’d say I am going out at the pinnacle of my career. Last year, when I got the Pinnacle Award from the Buffalo Broadcasters, I joked that ‘it’s all downhill from here.’ ”
Richert, who received that honor for “outstanding individual performance” over a span of more than 20 years, reached as far as he hoped to at Channel 4.
“Although the dream of a broadcaster early on is to become the lead anchor, I never quite wanted that because I’d never see my children,” said Richert. “If I was offered Don Postles’ anchor job tomorrow, I wouldn’t see my kids until the weekend and I never wanted that.”
“I am thankful to Channel 4. Channel 4 gave me the chance to be on TV when I had no TV experience 17 years ago and now it is allowing me to leave to take this position that I really want. I’ve probably given the tone that I am burned out and I’m trying to get anything else. But I am excited about working for the Catholic Diocese.”
Not to mention getting out of the cold.