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Women are dominating local TV reporting staffs

The departure of Channel 7 reporter Jason Gruenauer for a job in the top 20 market of Denver poses a potential headache for the station’s general manager, Mike Nurse.

According to Nurse and Channel 4 News Director Scott Levy, it isn’t easy finding qualified male news reporters to work in Buffalo, which is now the country’s No. 52 market.

The evidence is clearly on your television screen.

Since Levy took over as news director several months ago, he has had to hire several people whose primary job is reporting. (Many also are anchors).

Three male reporters and three female reporters have left the station in the last year. Anchor-reporter Lou Raguse left for Minneapolis, the No. 15 market in the country. Joe Melillo left for Indianapolis, the No. 27 market. Ed Drantch left Channel 4 for Channel 7 almost a year ago. The three females leaving were Diana Fairbanks and Emily Guggenmos – who left the TV business – and Elysia Rodriguez.

Levy filled the six openings with five relatively young women – Callan Gray, Katie Alexander, Marissa Perlman, Jenn Schanz and Ali Ingersoll. They join two anchor-reporters in Nalina Shapiro and Brittni Smallwood, and reporter Lauren Hall. He hired one male – Dave Greber.

The specialty fields of sports and weather are dominated by men in this market.

In sports, seven of the nine openings are filled by men.

In weather, 10 of 15 full- and part-time openings are held by men. All four Channel 4 meteorologists are male, while Channel 7 has three men and two women, and Channel 2 has three women and three men.

But the difference between the genders of new general assignment reporters on Channel 4 is eye-catching.

Just as eye-catching is the difference between the experience level between male and female reporters in this market.

As a market, Western New York is loaded with female reporters relatively new to the business and male reporters who often seem to have been here forever.

It isn’t exactly news that more women are drawn to work in local TV news here, but the recent hiring at Channel 4 made it more visible.

Why is it so difficult to find a few good men?

Levy, who has worked in Elmira, Altoona, Pa., and New York City, said he has “been watching the landscape change since I have worked in different cities/market sizes over past five years.”

“A good example is Joe and Lou both landed jobs in top 30 markets from Buffalo,” he added. “Over the past few years, hiring an experienced and qualified male reporter has been tougher to find.

“It’s not because it’s Buffalo and cold weather specifically, but many male reporters are having the opportunity to skip the mid-size market such as Buffalo and land a job directly in a top 30 market with three to five years experience now.

“During the hiring process, I’m looking for the best candidate available and talk to both men and women. Gender is not a factor in the decision, but I’m seeing a trend of more qualified females applying for our open positions here in Buffalo.”

Nurse agrees with Levy’s assessment. His on-air reporting staff includes seven women: Katie Morse, Cierra Johnson, Hannah Buehler, Jaclyn Asztalos, Jill Perkins, Rachel Elzufon and Desiree Wiley. He has six men in Matt Bove, Drantch, Jim Herr, the departing Gruenauer, Jeff Russo and Ed Reilly. Russo, Morse, Drantch and Buehler also anchor.

“There is no doubt that the pool of available news male multimedia journalists talent for medium to smaller markets is limited,” Nurse said. “There are available men for weather and sports positions generally. The key is to be able to recruit and grow male talent as we have done with Matt Bove, Jim Herr and Jason Gruenauer.”

A former student of mine, Bove was hired straight out of SUNY Buffalo State. Gruenauer was hired straight out of Syracuse University. Herr was a photojournalist at Channel 2 before joining Channel 7. Russo switched from sports to news.

A report released last week from the Radio-TV Digital News Association (RTDNA) appears to validate the conclusions of Levy and Nurse by illustrating the changing face of TV news.

The report noted “at 42.3 percent, women are at the highest percentage of the TV news workforce ever.” The percentage is 38.8 in the top 50 markets and grows to 44.6 in markets 51 and above (As stated above, Buffalo is No. 52).

The report added that “affiliation and geography make relatively little difference. That suggests the possibility that women are entering TV news at a much higher rate than in the past (relative to men).”

Channel 2’s Jeff Woodard hasn’t had the same problem as his competitors, though he has had the advantage of having a more stable and more veteran news staff. “I haven’t seen that trend among reporter openings,” said Woodard.

He has four relatively young reporters on staff, and the hiring was balanced between the genders – Erica Brecher, Andrea Martin, Jeff Preval and Danny Spewak.

Channel 2 has the benefit of having an experienced reporting staff that isn’t going anywhere. The veteran lineup of male reporters includes Scott Brown, Steve Brown, Pete Gallivan, Dave McKinley, Ron Plants and Kevin O’Neill. Plants and Michael Wooten also anchor; O’Neill also is a meteorologist. Claudine Ewing is the only female veteran who primarily is a reporter. Kelly Dudzik and Heather Ly also anchor.

“Fortunately for us, we have had a stable staff of strong journalists, so we have not had the turnover occurring in other newsrooms,” added Woodard. “We have been able to recruit talented young journalists to this market.”

Channel 4 also has a strong staff of veteran male reporters, which balances its recent hiring of more young women than men. Its veteran male reporters include Luke Moretti, Rich Newberg, George Richert and Al Vaughters.

It used to have several veteran female reporters, but Lisa Flynn, Michele McClintick, Ellen Maxwell, Victoria Hong, Lorey Schultz and others left the business, primary for lifestyle and economic reasons.

Channel 7’s lone veteran male news reporter is Reilly, who has done a terrific job transitioning to being a reporter after a lengthy career as a photographer.

After Reilly, Gruenauer qualified as an experienced man at Channel 7 after only being there for five years.

Nurse said the station was fortunate that Gruenauer is going to another Scripps station because that gave the station an early start to look for his replacement.

“Though not limiting our search to male candidates, we are sensitive to the ratio of male and female reporters,” said Nurse. “We are fortunate to also have great feeder schools such as Buffalo State and Syracuse to provide fresh candidates to consider as well.”

Nurse can’t say he wants to hire a man, for legal reasons. But his search for Gruenauer’s replacement certainly will test the reporting theory that a good man is hard to find in this market.

email: apergament@buffnews.com