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Buffalo TV reporters: You won't get rich, but for many this is home

The revolving door at local TV stations hasn't been quite as busy as it has been in the Trump White House, but it has been pretty active.

WIVB-TV (Channel 4) anchor-reporter Callan Gray ended her three-year run at the station a week ago to become a reporter in Minneapolis, the No. 15 TV market in the country.

WGRZ-TV (Channel 2), a Tegna station, expects that Gray's boyfriend, reporter Danny Spewak, eventually is going to join her. I wouldn't think he would have a difficult time getting a job in Minneapolis since he is a very strong reporter. The Tegna affiliate there would be lucky to have him.

WGRZ-TV (Channel 2) sports anchor-reporter Jonah Javad recently left for a job in Dallas, the No. 5 TV market in the country.

His girlfriend, WIVB-TV (Channel 4) anchor Nalina Shapiro, joined him in Dallas for a job outside of television.

Channel 4 sports anchor-reporter Shannon Shepherd left  for an off-the-air job at Fox Sports San Diego. Shepherd became the second sports reporter and anchor at Channel 4 to leave within a year as Tom Martin left for a job in Kansas City eight months ago.

All the departures – which primarily involve Channel 4 – have led inquiring minds to ask several questions, starting with what exactly is going on here?

Is the Buffalo TV market just a stepping-stone for young reporters and no longer a final destination?

How much do reporters and anchors make in salary here?

And don't they date outside of the media?

The last question sounds like a joke, but I've actually been asked that on Twitter.

Of course, they date outside the media.

WKBW-TV (Channel 7) co-anchor Ashley Rowe is engaged to Dan Greene, the Buffalo-born former director of operations at 43North who became chief operating officer of one of the companies that won a 43North competition.

But with the irregular schedules of TV reporters and anchors, it is only natural for some people in the media to meet after work and eventually date as they do at any business or college.

Channel 7 General Manager Michael Nurse says the departures here aren't anything unusual in the business.

"I don't think recent departures are necessarily a reflection on the market but more on the industry," he explained. "There are some to whom this market is a stepping-stone market where you can gain valuable experience to leapfrog to a larger market or towards your ultimate destination.

"To many others, however, especially those with some local roots or connections, this is an ideal market that is an extremely competitive news environment, large group owners and a high quality of life."

Channel 2 General Manager Jim Toellner doesn't believe the view of Buffalo has changed as a place to stop before advancing to a bigger market.

"No more than it ever was in my opinion," said Toellner.

Naturally, the stations look to hire people with local roots on the theory they will be more invested in staying here because – to borrow a local TV promo expression – "this is home."

"We do tend to look for candidates with a local connection or regional connection as they tend to be more open-minded about making Buffalo their longer term home," said Nurse.

Channel 4 News Director Lisa Polster, who formerly was the news director at Channel 7, has a similar policy. The station recently hired two WNY natives as reporters, Chris Horvatits of Lancaster and Kelsey Anderson of Orchard Park.

"The WNY natives that we've hired want to come home to be closer to family and friends," said Polster. "They are proud to work at the station they grew up watching. Their extensive knowledge of the area is a huge plus."

Toellner looks at things a little differently.

"We just try to hire good, talented people," said Toellner, who recently hired WNY native Kate Welshofer. "The best we can find for any opening."

Toellner doesn't believe the Buffalo market – which is now No. 53 in the country – is viewed differently than in the past.

"It is a great market to be in the news business," said Toellner. "Our viewers are very engaged in where they live so 'making a difference' as it relates to work satisfaction is top of the charts here. They also become very recognizable here and part of the community. Their quality of life is high here ...  I really think it is the same as it ever was. For some it is home, for some it becomes home and for others it is and was a stepping-stone, no different than most any business."

"Buffalo has become by and large a second or third job market where you start elsewhere to grow to come to Buffalo," said Channel 7's Nurse. "To some, this market will simply be a stopping point on their career and this is to be expected."

He added some staffers leave for bigger markets within the company, with former Channel 7 reporter Jason Gruenauer in that category. He left the local Scripps station for one within the company in Denver.

The one area that station bosses were reluctant to discuss was salary levels.

"Market salaries in Buffalo are competitive with the national average," said Nurse. He wouldn't elaborate.

Toellner also talked generically about salary ranges.

"Every situation is different," he said. "It just depends how good, skilled and versatile they are and what we have available. Are they producing unique, well-written content/stories for multiple platforms? Are they dependent or independent journalists? It is very much a meritocracy."

However, as Channel 7 meteorologist Don Paul recently mentioned on social media, there is a misconception about what people on television earn.

You aren't going to get rich covering snowstorms on Lake Erie, town board meetings or Bills and Sabres games.

According to multiple sources, reporters with less than three years experience are likely to earn between $38,000 and $40,000. They will get small annual increases to about $60,000 after five years and long time reporters generally can make more than that. Main anchors usually get six figures, but even their salaries have decreased here in recent years as the size of the TV market has declined.

In other words, if reporters and weekend anchors are dating each other, they most likely aren't going to high-end restaurants too often.

Email: apergament@buffnews.com

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