It is easy to draw the conclusion that Channel 4 Assistant News Director Kris O’Donnell is no longer working at the station because she was responsible for accidentally emailing to the staff critical text messages from News Director Scott Levy.
But the reasons for her departure Monday undoubtedly went deeper than the emails, which eventually were made public.
Undoubtedly, the email incident didn’t help O’Donnell. But according to sources, her exit was more likely the last straw in a forced TV marriage between Levy and his assistant.
Levy didn’t hire O’Donnell. She was hired by former News Director Joe Schlaerth almost two years ago after previously having been the executive producer at Time Warner Cable News.
Levy declined comment beyond saying that O’Donnell is gone. O’Donnell couldn’t immediately be reached to comment.
When I wrote the first story Friday about the texts exchanged between O'Donnell and Levy, I hadn’t seen all the screen shots of the texts that O’Donnell apparently planned to email to herself but instead sent to the entire staff. The story was written on the basis of sources who had seen the texts, many of which were several months old.
Since then, I have acquired and read them.
Several of the texts speak to the relationship between Levy and O’Donnell.
“I’m doing my best to give you real feedback,” wrote Levy. “I’m not here to argue, fight, get you mad. I’m giving my thoughts.”
“Kris stop being so official,” Levy wrote in another text. “Most of my stuff is correcting errors.”
The sources were accurate in saying Levy was most critical of reporter Dave Greber. On the other hand, Levy was correct in saying that the texts were from months ago. And he appears to be much happier with his staff now.
Reading the texts reveal that Levy is very passionate about even the smallest detail of his job.
At one almost humorous point, he is upset where a crawl is placed while Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders spoke at the University at Buffalo.
“There is a ticker on the candidate for the president of the United States,” wrote Levy. He asked it to be removed.
The overall content of the exchanges between Levy and O'Donnell wouldn’t be surprising to anyone who thinks his or her boss shares things with a chief aide that he or she wouldn’t want the staff to know.
It isn’t a shock that a demanding boss has strong, insulting and even unfair opinions about how to improve and motivate his staff or, in this case, his newscast.
The content of a critical text that has been confirmed as meant about Greber is the most eye-opening.
“This man should want to run through a brick wall for you,” wrote Levy. “You’re coaching him, spending time with him. He’s not even trying. We have reporters going 100 miles per hour for News 4. No sweeps, no drive, no passion. No respect.”
In another text, Levy asked O’Donnell to talk to Greber about basic story ideas.
“He’s now pitching news releases, as you can see,” texted Levy.
Levy also wanted Greber to become more involved in social media, with one text revealing about how the business has changed.
“The web is vital to the success of the business operation at News 4,” wrote Levy. “We make money off web clicks, which are generated by social media.”
A couple of the above exchanges are pretty rough. But Levy now says he is a Greber fan and considers him one of the station’s top reporters. To validate that point, Greber is getting some of the top assignments.
Greber wasn’t the only staffer getting tough criticism.
At one point, Levy appeared to be criticizing meteorologist Andrew Baglini.
“Did Andrew send in ideas?” asked Levy. “Not gonna deal with him anymore…. Buy in or get out of here.”
Levy was upset with reporter Ali Ingersoll for referencing ABC’s “Good Morning America” in one report.
“Our competition,” wrote Levy. “We compete from 7-9 against them on CW 23. Get it down. She can work at WKBW and promote it all day long.”
That seems a little harsh and unfair. Reporters mention the competition all the time these days when they have exclusive content.
Levy also didn’t appear to be a big fan of Lauren Hall’s reporting skills.
“Lauren is not our best reporter,” texted Levy. “Where is Marissa (Perlman). Nalina (Shapiro). Todd (Santos). Get her off the air. I think we’re on different pages. Lauren Hall is not strong. She is filler for the content.”
It is hard to argue with that assessment, though the comment is a little unfair. Hall isn’t one of Channel 4’s strongest reporters. That hasn’t been her role. She generally does traffic and softer stories and she does them well.
Hall soon will be off Channel 4’s air. She is leaving the station shortly to work for Pegula Sports and Entertainment.
Levy may have some repair work to do or else some other staffers will wish they could join Hall out the door.