Often times being a leader means giving people direction. Other times, it means providing support and comfort.
That was the case for John Humphries, president and general manager of Hearst Television-owned WYFF in Greenville/Spartanburg, S.C., last Memorial Day, when anchor and reporter Mike McCormick and videographer Aaron Smeltzer died while covering the effects of Tropical Storm Alberto. A tree fell on their SUV just after they left an interview with Tryon, N.C., Fire Chief Geoffrey Tennant.
“About 10 minutes after the interview, the fire department got word that a tree had fallen on a car and when the chief and his team showed up, they instantly recognized the logo on the car of the two guys who had just interviewed him,” said Humphries, who is B&C’s GM of the Year for markets 26-50.
McCormick had been with the station for 11 years, working as a reporter four days a week and as the Sunday evening anchor. He was about to become the station’s full-time weekend anchor when the incident happened. Smeltzer had just joined the station a few months prior, and had switched to WYFF because he wanted to work with McCormick, who was beloved in the community, said Humphries.
“There’s no chapter in the GM handbook for this,” said Humphries, whose station is top-rated overall in the market with leading newscasts at 6 a.m., 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. “But I don’t think it’s a whole lot different in the business setting than in the personal setting. The chief thing to do is to be present, listen and allow people to share and give in their own way. There were several people in the newsroom for whom Mike was their very best friend.”
The response from the community, competitors and the corporation was immediate.
“As often happens — and this is not unique to us — you learn you can hold opposing emotions at the same time,” Humphries said. “You can have a deep sense of grief while you also have this overwhelming sense of gratitude for the response of the community and of the industry. We immediately got phone calls and emails from all of the stations in nearby markets expressing their sadness and asking what they could do to help.'
Covering rough and risky weather has become par for the course at the South Carolina station. Not long after that, one of the station’s reporters found herself covering a scene where yet another tree had fallen on a mobile home. And in September, Humphries had to send crews back out to cover Hurricane Florence.
“To put people in harm’s way after what had just happened, we weren’t even close to being recovered,” Humphries said. “There was angst there for sure.”
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Contributing editor Paige Albiniak has been covering the business of television for nearly 25 years. She is a longtime contributor to Next TV, Broadcasting + Cable and Multichannel News. She concurrently serves as editorial director for entertainment marketing association Promax. She has written for such publications as TVNewsCheck, The New York Post, Variety, CBS Watch and more. Albiniak was B+C’s Los Angeles bureau chief from September 2002 to 2004, and an associate editor covering Congress and lobbying for the magazine in Washington, D.C., from January 1997-September 2002.