Before Nexstar took over ownership of WIVB-TV in January, Channel 4’s staff was concerned about the scary nickname the company has because of its cost-cutting reputation: Deathstar.
Contrary to that reputation, new general manager Dominic Mancuso has been busy filling the jobs that his predecessor, Rene LaSpina, left vacant. Station sources say 20-25 jobs weren’t filled.
“You are in the right neighborhood,” said Mancuso.
He didn’t want to criticize LaSpina, but Mancuso is aware of the impact the cuts had on the remaining staff.
“It obviously puts pressure on the people who have to cover and we’re very fast to rectify to that,” said Mancuso.
He responded immediately when asked which vacant positions surprised him the most.
“I was just surprised the producers positions were left unfilled, we’ve worked very quickly to rectify that,” said Mancuso. “I was surprised the department head positions were left open – director of sales, news, creative services. We’re rectifying that.”
“Rectify” was his favorite word in a 90-minute lunch at an Elmwood Avenue restaurant.
He rectified the news director opening last week by taking the “interim” tag off of Lisa Polster, who had been in the job since Scott Levy left for Kansas City in August.
“She has been doing a fabulous job covering it as interim,” said Mancuso of Polster. “She is very well regarded by the staff. She earned it frankly.”
LaSpina also was known for dismissing the importance of the station’s footprint in the community. To the horror of some staffers, she stopped allowing the United Way to get an automatic checkoff from station employees, and Channel 2 took over the annual Roswell Tree of Hope lighting ceremony.
Mancuso plans to look into the United Way issue.
“I can’t understand why they wouldn’t do it,” he said of the checkoff.
Mancuso said he was aware of the decline in community involvement and has started to rectify it.
“Our company … is very, very interested in being involved in the community,” said Mancuso. “I am judged by our involvement in the community. It is a very big thing.”
After filling the department head posts, Mancuso plans to form a committee of employees who live in different parts of Western New York to suggest how the station should serve the community.
A graduate of the University of Notre Dame, Mancuso has worked in the bigger markets of Chicago, Nashville and Cleveland for stations owned by Sinclair, Tribune, Fox and Raycom. He had been on the beach – the broadcasting term for being unemployed – since leaving the Cleveland station in August.
“Running a station and what you do is the same whether you are in market No. 3 or market 203,” said Mancuso. “The difference is where the decimal point is. The functions of the job and the fun of the job are about the same.”
He knew Buffalo was similar to Cleveland.
“I’m a Midwest guy,” said Mancuso. “I grew up in Joliet, Ill. This town has a lot of similarities in that respect. I knew Buffalo was starting to have a bit of a renaissance, which is a good thing. I knew there is lots of snow, which my wife, Teresa, loves. She is a winter person.”
He received a scouting report from Nexstar President Timothy J. Busch, whose resume includes stops at WGR radio and WGRZ-TV. He was the general sales manager at Channel 2 for several years until 2000.
“He had great things to say about the market, great things to say about the people,” said Mancuso. “And he has almost been like a Chamber of Commerce for me. He gave me suggestions on where to live, restaurants, you name it. He has been fantastic.
“I don’t think many people can say they got a tour of the city from the president of their company. But I did. He drove us all over and pointing out different things. We went to Chef’s for dinner. From there back to the hotel in a real interesting, circuitous route so he could show us all those different things – City Hall, the Buffalo Club.”
Mancuso has been working long hours, which hasn’t left much time to fully investigate Western New York. But his first impressions are positive.
“The one thing I like is there are still neighborhoods in the city, you can still live in the city,” said Mancuso. “That is something that impressed my wife and I both. We’re city people. We lived in Chicago for 30 years and we raised kids in the city.”
He realizes Buffalo is a news market that is slow to change and he hasn’t put a timeline on achieving the goal – either on the air or online – of Channel 4 becoming the place to turn when big news happens.
“What I look for is making progress,” said Mancuso. “That we are moving forward. It is never a straight line.”
“We have a good staff. The talent on air is very good, we have some people with history in the market, which counts to me,” he said. “(Anchors) Don Postles and Jacquie Walker have great perspective; they’ve been in this market for some time.”
He declined to comment on the future of the morning program “Wake Up!” That could be because he needs time to make a big decision. Brittni Smallwood has been the co-anchor alongside Jordan Williams since Teresa Weakley left months ago.
“I am doing a lot of observing,” said Mancuso, speaking generally. “I don’t want to do any rash changing. I want to sit back and take notes get to know the market better and get to know the people better.”
Time will tell, but Mancuso’s plans are encouraging enough to wonder if the “Deathstar” talk is overblown.
“I just think it is crazy and it is not indicative of the company I am working for and their involvement in the community everywhere,” said Mancuso. “Every broadcast company on the planet has had to right-size their businesses. I saw that at Tribune, I saw that at Fox, I saw that at Sinclair, I saw that at Raycom.”
He has a simple message for Channel 4 staffers still worried about the nickname.
“I think we put our money where our mouth is coming in,” said Mancuso. “We told them to get involved back in the community, we are filling positions. We’re hiring.”
In other words, the plan is to “rectify” those scary views about Nexstar.