WIVB-TV News Director Scott Levy has presided over an extreme makeover at the station that would make Buffalo Sabres General Manager Tim Murray proud.
In a little more than a year, Levy has hired several young reporters and anchors, a new sports team, a weather anchor and is about to introduce a 4 p.m. newscast.
In March, seven new staffers have come aboard or soon will. At the same time, Channel 4 has lost two highly respected veteran reporters as Rich Newberg retired and George Richert decided to go into public relations. It is about to lose its chief weather figure of the past 28 years, Don Paul.
Channel 4 still has some long-term veterans. Anchors Jacquie Walker and Don Postles and reporters Al Vaughters and Luke Moretti are available to mentor all the young talent.
The station certainly is rebuilding around its youth, most of whom are female, as it tries to overtake Channel 2 as No. 1 in key time periods.
Newberg, Richert and Paul were three of the higher paid members of the news department, which Levy concedes gave him an opportunity to hire several additional staffers without breaking the department budget.
In a wide-ranging interview, Levy addressed whether he is concerned about losing so much experience; his plans for the 4 p.m. newscast; why he has hired more female than male reporters; and the airing of some controversial stories that were outside the conservative news brand that the CBS affiliate has become known for.
The experience question doesn’t seem to concern Levy that much, partly because a great deal of it remains in Postles and Walker. Postles reportedly has about a year left on his contract and Levy said Walker is under contract and isn’t leaving any time soon.
“Oh my goodness – Jacquie is the face of the station,” said Levy. “I don’t see Jacquie going anywhere.”
Levy is confident that the young people he has hired will grow in their jobs, predicting some even may become network stars.
“I believe the people I hire can be molded, coached, trained,” said Levy. “While [the loss of experience] is a concern on the surface, I do believe they have a potential to grow and be outstanding journalists. I think they can exceed some of their own expectations, and I think Buffalo will be very proud to see any one of them go to network or a Top 20 market and be glad that they made a stop in Buffalo.”
He effusively praised anchor-reporter Callan Gray, reporter Dave Greber, who was passed over in favor of Gray for the evening weekend anchor post, and reporter Jenn Schanz.
“Callan has potential that might shock people in regard to news judgment, her ability to connect with the audience, her ability to tackle tough issues,” said Levy. “She has the potential to go to a Top 20 market.”
Levy said he believes Greber does a great job as a reporter. “Dave is an outstanding newsroom citizen, he is a hard worker,” Levy added.
Channel 4 recently added four people – anchor Christy Andrews, a producer and two female reporters – to work on the 4 p.m. newscast that premieres March 28. The extra hour of afternoon news may seem unnecessary to this critic and many viewers, but it is expected to provide a stronger lead-in for the station’s 5 to 6:30 p.m. news block. Channel 2’s lead there was cut slightly in February from January.
Levy said the 4 p.m. plan is to target news of the day and focus on parenting and educational issues more likely to interest women. “It is not going to be cooking segments and that kind of stuff,” he said.
Levy said weather won’t be overblown, with the typical two or three weather hits every half hour.
Reporter Ali Ingersoll is moving from the weekends to the 4 p.m. newscast, with newcomer Nick Quattrini, a rare male reporting hire, taking over her weekend duties.
In the last year or so, Levy’s female reporting hires include Gray, Schanz, Marissa Perlman, Ingersoll, Regina Mongiovi and Angela Christofors. Quattrini joins Greber as the only general assignment male reporters hired. “Men are the toughest to hire,” explained Levy. “They are skipping this market.”
He has hired two men, Josh Reed and Tom Martin, to work in sports and is looking for a third member of the on-air sports staff, something that the station hasn’t had in years. Levy concedes that prevented the station from covering a large part of the market.
“I believe in sports,” said Levy. “I believe in covering local high schools and colleges. It is the next step in growing the department.”
He also believes in covering some stories that wouldn’t have been seen on old, staid Channel 4. They include a February sweeps story on women eating their placenta and one on a college student paying for his education by working in the porn industry. Levy deflects any criticism from Schanz, who did both stories, to him.
He said the decision to air the placenta story at 6 p.m. instead of 11 p.m. “falls on me” and “you can make an argument that could have run at 11 p.m. That is out of Jenn’s hands.” He also agreed that “you could make an argument” that it would have been better to show the placenta less often.
“I approved the story the way it was,” said Levy. “If people were offended, it falls on me.”
He defended the news merit of the porn story by saying it was a male version of a story that has been done more often about women. “In a weird way, it was a story that merited newsworthiness,” claimed Levy.
How? “You don’t hear about a man doing that kind of act – selling themselves to pay for college,” said Levy.
So what was the merit? “To show it is happening right here in Buffalo.”
Of course, more significant things are happening here, which is one reason viewership of local news is much higher in Buffalo than in most markets.
“I don’t know if there is another TV market like Buffalo,” said Levy. “This is one of the best news markets in the country.”
It is such a good TV news market, that Levy even envisions news eventually finding an additional time slot.
“I still think there is room for expansion,” said Levy. “I wouldn’t be surprised if someone in this market will do a fresh 7 p.m. newscast.”
Heaven help us.