All my recent reports about Channel 4 news staffers leaving the station may have created the impression that “the sky is falling, the sky is falling” on the Elmwood Avenue studio.
That is hardly the case.
Channel 4 still has several veterans on its staff holding down the fort who are well-known and well-liked in the community.
The veterans include anchors Jacquie Walker and Don Postles, meteorologists Don Paul and Mike Cejka and reporters George Richert, Al Vaughters, Luke Moretti and Rich Newberg.
In many cases, they’ve raised their families here and stayed through downsizing and pay cuts. They still make up a solid core at News 4.
The problem is that the station’s younger bench is a little thin as some of the above staffers approach Social Security age.
I’m not suggesting they want to retire. They don’t have pensions and probably are enjoying their lifestyles that their salaries help them afford.
But the station that relies solely on veterans is setting itself up for decline unless it keeps and grows some younger staffers.
A few years ago when some veteran reporters left Channel 4, I referred to some of the replacements right out of college at Channel 4 as the Kiddie Corps. The thought was they would grow into their jobs and become the next generation of Channel 4 stars.
But that wasn’t realistic. Times have changed. In the old days, when the Buffalo market one of the top 50, someone could move from Elmira, Utica or Rochester, meet someone, perhaps marry and decide to become a lifer. In a way, Buffalo now has practically become the market equivalent of Elmira, a training ground for stations in bigger markets that pay much better.
That has helped in one way – local stations here compete for New York State Emmy Awards as a midmarket station in markets above 50 through 99 and not against the big boys in New York City.
But it means a loss of advertising dollars and lower salaries here than there were in the good old days.
This isn’t to say young reporters and anchors won’t stay.
Nalina Shapiro, who was hired right out of college, Brianna Smallwood, Andrew Baglini and Lauren Brill are still on board at Channel 4.
Todd Santos, Steve Vesey, Jordan Williams and Teresa Weakley have more experience but are still young. They are more likely to stay if they or their significant other is from Western New York and see all the benefits of their hometowns and living near family.
Santos, whose wife is from Grand Island, is Exhibit A for that philosophy.
However, it doesn’t mean they will stay in the business when more lucrative jobs and better hours are available in the public relations business.
The news business has always been a stressful one, full of deadline pressure.
But reporters now also have to do multiple jobs to save money.
The days of having a photographer on a story shoot are over, with most new reporters or multimedia journalists required to shoot and edit their own stories as well.
It is a recipe for burnout. It is much less likely that in 20 or 30 years we will see any reporter stay in the business or stay in Buffalo as long as Moretti, Vaughters or Newberg have.
That brings me back to the second wave of young newscasters that have left Channel 4. Anthony Congi, Bryan Shaw and Joe Arena were among those in an earlier wave.
The recent departures all had good reasons to leave that reflect the changing TV news business.
Let’s look at those who recently have left or will soon depart and their reasons.
Lou Raguse: The anchor-reporter, whose contract expires this week, is leaving for a much bigger market at an excellent station, KARE in Minneapolis, in his home state of Minnesota. He has told friends that it is his dream job. The only way Channel 4 could have kept him was to assure him that he would eventually replace Postles as the station’s lead news anchor. Raguse is a solid anchor, but he is far from exciting and that wasn’t going to happen.
Emily Guggenmos: Naturally, Raguse’s wife is leaving with him. But from her Facebook post, it also was clear that she didn’t like working mornings, especially since it meant the couple didn’t see each other as often as they would have liked. In fairness to Channel 4 management, it isn’t easy accommodating a husband and wife team. But if it wanted to keep them, it should have tried harder to keep them happy.
Elysia Rodriguez: She had a nice on-camera presence. Her departure surprised everyone at the station and the reason for her leaving has been a well-kept secret. But she was only here a year so Channel 4 didn’t have much invested in keeping her.
Joe Melillo: He was only here about six months before he got a job offer from an Indianapolis station owned by Media General, which now also owns Channel 4. Indianapolis is a much bigger market so his leaving was a no-brainer.
Diana Fairbanks: The station’s biggest loss because she looked like the heir apparent to Walker. However, her schedule was constantly being changed and her husband got a great job back in Traverse City, Mich., where they came from. No one in Buffalo would ever argue about someone leaving to go back home. However, if Fairbanks had been treated better, I had the feeling she might have stayed here.
Ed Drantch: He was a very aggressive reporter for Channel 4, but he got into General Manager Rene LaSpina’s doghouse early for doing an interview without permission and apparently never got out of it. But he also got something out of Channel 7 that he was unlikely to get at Channel 4 – a regular anchor post on Sundays.
Rachel Kingston: Another loss for the station. She is a Western New York native, an excellent reporter and had news in her blood. However, she also said she left for her dream in the Erie County Sheriff’s Department. In a way, the departure of someone who was so passionate about the news says a lot about the desirability of working in TV news these days.