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Ch.4′s Owner Asking Unhappy Staffers for Feedback

Jacob Artist: “Glee” star

 Channel 4 news viewers aren’t the only ones upset at the dismantling of the former No.1 news department.

So are Channel 4 workers.

Morale is so low at the station that WIVB-TV’s corporate owner, LIN TV, sent a private firm to the Elmwood Avenue studio last week to conduct focus groups about the unhappiness.

According to multiple sources, LIN sent the firm here as a follow-up after the Buffalo station received some of the lower scores among about 30 LIN stations in a summer survey asking employees to candidly evaluate operations at the station.

The same sources said that employees who attended the two days of focus groups were told to be candid and not to worry that whatever they said would be held against them.

“It sounds like they are seriously trying to find out what’s wrong,” said a Channel 4 insider.

The main target of employees’ wrath was News Director Joe Schlaerth, who multiple sources said was hammered for his management style. I’m told that words like “verbally abusive” and “bully” were thrown around in the private sessions and afterwards when staffers got together to openly discuss what they said.

“We all said the same things and we didn’t even talk to each other (before hand),” said one insider.

“(The conversation about Schlaerth) was very frank and brutal,” said another insider. “Things have to change.”

Schlaerth has presided over the exodus of several veteran on-air and behind-the-scenes staffers in the last few years including Mylous Hairston, Lorey Schultz, Melissa Holmes, Paul Peck, John Murphy, Michele McClintick and Victoria Hong. And morning co-anchor Joe Arena also is expected to leave shortly for a job in Pittsburgh.

They’ve left for a variety of reasons, personal and professional, and the television industry is changing and becoming less attractive to work in so it can’t all be blamed on Schlaerth’s management style. Of course, bosses often aren’t typically loved and Schlaerth does have supporters. But insiders said that Schlaerth is being criticized for a variety of things, including taking credit for the Emmy Awards won by staffers.

Sources said that Chris Musial, the station’s general manager, also got his share of criticism during the focus groups, which also included some petty details such as the elimination of the station’s annual Christmas party.

It is hard to know whether the input will lead to anything, but the feelings that many Channel 4 news staffers have about their boss is no longer a secret.

 That Williamsville South graduate, Jacob Artist, looks more and like a star after he was showcased in the the second episode of “Glee” last week.

The only people probably not happy to see The NFL Network finally make it to Time Warner Cable are in the business offices of WBBZ-TV and WGR-AM. More people may watch the Bills-Miami Thursday game on the network on cable than on WBBZ now. And the NFLN’s early Sunday morning pregame shows probably will take some viewers away from WGR’s early morning pregame shows.

The NFL Network coverage of the blown call in Monday night’s game won by Seattle over Green Bay was highly critical of the officials, which indicates that the league allows its reporters and anchors freedom to speak their minds. The controversy was one of the top two or three stories on Tuesday night’s network news, which should embarrass the league if it is capable of being embarrassed.

Worth noting: The Buffalo News recent hiring of Sarasota Herald Tribune executive editor Mike Connelly as the editor who will replace Margaret Sullivan got me thinking about the last time the paper’s news department was run by someone who hadn’t previously worked at The News. I’m not a News historian and I don’t know the exact answer, but I do know it is easily the first time in more than 40 years since both Murray B. Light and Margaret Sullivan were named editor after having worked at the paper in other capacities. It will be interesting to see if Connelly’s fresh eyes will lead to any significant changes in coverage at the newspaper or if he will just manage the status quo.

Wondering what all the fuss is about regarding “Homeland,” which won the Emmy Sunday for best drama? Showtime plans to run a marathon of the entire first season starring Emmy winners Damian Lewis and Claire Danes on Saturday, a day before the second season premiere.

I wasn’t shocked Tuesday when the Bills sent good guy punter Brian Moorman packing. After another lousy kick in Sunday’s game, I tweeted “what’s wrong with Moorman this year?” or something to that effect. He also had a lousy game against the Jets, which I blogged about in my column about what a loud mouth I was on the plane ride home from New York City.


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17 responses to "Ch.4′s Owner Asking Unhappy Staffers for Feedback"

  1. Rob says:

    Catching up on the week while wondering what happened to Marv Bateman

    Its pretty sad, and shows how obtuse management is, when they have to hire an outside consulting firm to find out what ails Channel 4. I think all of your readers on this site could have figured that out. Some of the new people are good but it was way too much turnover too quick which hurts their ability to connect to their local listeners.

    The NFL Ref controversy is further proof that the league needs to overhaul their rulebook. From that ridiculous call on Monday to the “Tuck Rule” and all the other BS, the rulebook is more of a legal document than a do’s and don’ts.

    This hire by the News will be interesting to say the least. Usually a new person wants to put their stamp on the operations or just sit back and let everyone do what they are doing. Any idea what Connelly accomplished at the Sarasota Tribune? Hopefully if he does one thing it would be to calm Rod Watson down and not have every issue be about race. I’m still waiting for a column on how race plays a part in the replacement refs.

    Moorman getting waived is usually a shock for those that casually follow the Bills but know the players through their community service. Moorman is right up there with the best who spent countless hours working and being a part of the community. It also says a lot about the Bills decade of duncery since he was probably the best Buffalo Bill for a 10 year period. Either way, I wish him and his family all the best. He’s much more deserving of a key to the City than TO.

  2. GMan says:

    Another unhappy company has to be Directv. The Red Zone Channel was the only reason I bought the Sunday Ticket package. Now that I receive it on T/W, who needs a dish on the roof. The debut last Sunday couldn’t have been scripted any better, with all the overtime games. Plus the fact that no games are actually ” blacked out” with this coverage makes this channel a must have. Now, if the NFL could only come up with some competent officiating…..?????

  3. Tina says:

    Even if it wasn’t discussed prior to the meetings I am sure that at one point or another complaints about bullying and verbal abuse had been talked about either in or out of the work setting.
    It isn’t that difficult to figure out what happened. They let good people go, many who had been there for years in order to save money to hire younger, inexperienced ones. The viewers aren’t stupid, if we want mediocrity we will watch YNN..well, actually they even look a a bit better than Channel 4 some days.

  4. Former4 says:

    Joe Schlaerth was named news director so Chris Musial could have his thumb directly on the operations of the department. What you have is a bully answering to a liar. Schlaerth is a bully to woman, and has told many female anchors that they were not “anchor material” as they move on to do really well at other stations. And every award in his office was earned by others, including some where he had ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to do with the story. But he gets an annual trip to NYC. He has absolutely no shame.

    • 4is#1 says:

      It’s wom-e-n, genius. Let’s hope you weren’t a writer at WIVB. Although, I think we all know who you are and why you failed at the #1 station…don’t we? While we are on the subject-never start a sentence with “And”. I think the person who should bully you is your former Language Arts teacher!

      • former4 says:

        Your name says it all. 4 was #1 in all dayparts when I was there and not since. I doubt you know who I am and you can gues all you want (Oops I spelled guess wrong=jump on that) Bullying is bullying- and I know of more than 20 people who attach that label to your boss, who is I am sure paying you well north of $25K!! Wait most likely not….But it is a calling right?

  5. P says:

    I don’t know what Schlaerth and Musial are like, but verbal abuse and colorful language are pretty standard fare for TV newsrooms. Doesn’t make it any more enjoyable to be on the end of it, but still, nothing out of the ordinary. Stealing credit for major awards… okay, that’s a little much.

    Alan, for having spent so much time analyzing your previous bet for Buffalo News editor… I’m surprised that you haven’t weighed in on the guy who actually got the job. What do you think of him?

  6. Don says:

    ……speaking of the Buffalo News: i would be very interested in you thoughts about the workings (or, not working) of their web site. For weeks, it has only worked sporatically and leaves so much to be desired. what say you??

  7. Alpha says:

    Wondering what all the fuss is about regarding “Homeland,” which won the Emmy Sunday for best drama? Showtime plans to run a marathon of the entire first season starring Emmy winners Damian Lewis and Claire Danes on Saturday, a day before the second season premiere.

    Most likely the fuss (as with HBO) is about its availability. Many people and I mean many do not even have access to it IT IS A PAY CHANNEL/SERVICE and I love ppl who rant an rave about it (*including yourself) when many cannot even watch it! It’s not basic service!!!

  8. Rob says:

    The News is delaying the pay site for another month

    • Don says:

      The News is delaying the news for even longer……

    • First it was July, then October, now it’s the end of October. We’ll see if that actually ever goes through.

      The News has some nice content but there are a LOT of free news options in this town. Business First has their “freemium” model with some free and some paid content. Of course there’s also the TV/radio stations, blogs and Web sites such as this one, who are all still on the free model.

      This isn’t like Olean where the Times-Herald is the only longform news in the entire county. The Buffalo News had better make sure they have valuable content– and make sure it can be monetized– before they jump to this paywall.

  9. Carolyn says:

    OMG!!!! Channel 4 News reminds me of something produced in a Wayne’s World basement. Not surprising that Joe Arena is leaving – He is very very good, even though I was upset that they dumped Lisa Scott. The stsff seems like a crazy quilt with well experienced (night) and especially the weather not Amelia, tho – she waves her hands around way too much and talks in some sort of affected stilted monotone (in her favor is the Wing It Buffalo feature where she seems natural and pleasant (still the waving giant hands). And do they really have to read from cards? Oh well, If Channel 4 insists on hiring kids with chipmunk voices they will have virtually no audience pretty soon. Used to love the Channel 4 News, not so much now.

    • Tom W. says:

      Don’t forget about Bryan Shaw, who will usually stammer his way through a forecast. He has gotten slightly better, but it’s still noticeable.

  10. Mediacat says:

    All very interesting and enlightening information.
    Noticed another disturbing trend and practice: use of the “do not call or contact” policy regarding trying to get a job in the Buffalo media market. (For example, an employment ad and station application will include the phrase “no phone calls, please!”) Also in dealings with Mr. Musial, he seems to favor favor hiring people from the local college he attended over other local colleges or universities. Perhaps these two things could be addressed sometime in a futures edition of this blog / column.

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