Does News Director Turnover Hurt a Station’s News?

By Kevin Eck Comment

TV_SetWhen WTMJ news director Bill Berra announced he was leaving for WFLA in Tampa, FL, the Milwaukee market lost its longest serving news director.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel media writer Duane Dudek points out the three remaining news directors at Milwaukee’s network affiliated stations all have a close to two years of experience in the community compared to Berra’s nine years.

How does news director flux or stability affect what viewers see?

“Stations and companies have figured out that they can’t keep changing people every 18 months and have success,” said [on-air talent agent and media blog writer Rick] Gevers. Having veterans in news management is essential to knowing where the bodies are buried.

“They know who the mayor was before the current mayor, and the story from behind the story five years ago that a reporter is covering.”

A prime example is Juli Buehler, news director at WLUK-TV in Green Bay. She grew up in Port Edwards — home of Gordon Hinkley — and was executive producer before becoming news director 20 years ago.

“I sometimes say I’ve been here since Noah and the flood,” Buehler said.

Her competitor, Tom McCarey, was news director of WBAY-TV for 31 years before retiring in January.

What I called institutional memory Buehler described as “becoming part of the community.” And, she said, it doesn’t take 20 years to achieve. Some, like her, have been in WLUK’s newsroom for a long time, established roots and raised families. But new people, she said, have “fresh ideas” and can “bring a spark and an energy and passion that is just as important.”

Still, news director turnover is common enough that it reminded Gevers of the old joke about three envelopes left for an incoming news director by a predecessor. After a year when ratings didn’t improve, he opened the first, which read: “Build a new news set.” A year later, when that did no good, he opened the second envelope, which read: “Fire the anchor.” And after a year, when that did no good, he opened the third envelope, which read: “Prepare three envelopes.”

You can read the rest of Dudek’s article by clicking here.