Jeff Murri: Motor City’s Madman

B&C's 2011 Local TV Executives of the Year

Perhaps more than any market,
general managers in Detroit do more
than simply run their TV stations. They are
fully immersed champions for the struggling
market—extensions of the Chamber of Commerce,
benefactors of the region’s considerable
downtrodden public and advocates for a city
besmirched by corruption.

It’s a giant job, and none handle it better
than Jeff Murri, WJBK vice president and general
manager. Adding six hours of news per
week this fall, the Fox-owned station now offers
a staggering 63½ hours a week of news,
on top of what may be the deepest lineup of
community outreach programs in the U.S.

Murri says WJBK now provides around 40% of the local TV news hours in a market
stocked with top-fiight stations. “We have a
significant voice, and with that a tremendous
amount of responsibility,” he says. “We recognize
our commitment to local news separates
us in the community.”

The station thrives on an underdog mentality,
says Murri, but WJBK’s ratings and revenue
belie that little-guy ethos. The station runs
neck and neck with Scripps’ WXYZ and Post
Newsweek’s WDIV, and wins almost all adults
25-54 races. Fox Television Stations CEO Jack
Abernethy says Fox stations are particularly
challenging to run, and he suggests none do
it better than his guy in DMA No. 11.

“Jeff’s newses win in the demos in almost
every daypart and have the highest revenue
share,” says Abernethy. “As far as I can tell,
they’re the most profitable, too.”

Murri is a local boy, growing up just outside
city lines. When he took over WJBK in
October 2001, the station produced 38½
hours of news a week. Over the next decade,
he added 25 more.

With so much time to fill, Murri and news
director Dana Hahn (“the engine that runs
that department,” Murri says) are always up
for fresh takes on local news. There’s live music
most every day. Murri brought on Charlie
LeDuff, an offbeat former New York Times columnist
with Detroit roots and a Pulitzer Prize
to his credit, to write and report.

But news is only part of the picture at WJBK.
The station hosts thriving job fairs and took
part in Adopt a Family and Adopt a School programs,
with staffers teaching a six-week class at a
communications high school. Partnering with a
furniture outlet, WJBK publishes an annual Holiday
Connection Wish List book, which links
the region’s nonprofit organizations with potential
contributors. Its Gleaners Community Food
Bank fund-raiser stands to collect $1.4 million
for the hungry this year. A franchise called Redefining Detroit offsets the abundant negative news
about the Motor City in the press. “We shine a
light on people who are making a difference,”
Murri says. “It’s a place to go to find out the good
things that are happening.”

Murri is perhaps most proud of WJBK’s
“Problem Solvers” franchise, where viewers
reach out to the station with their personal
issues, whether it’s crime or city bureaucracy.
More than 12,000 problems have been logged
at WJBK thus far in 2011.

“A small fraction of them become news
stories,” Murri says, “but 100% of them get
responses. I’m proud of that.”

Several of the initiatives make real cash, including
a My Fox Half Off couponing program
that has more than 50,000 subscribers.

Abernethy says a number of initiatives
are hatched out of Detroit, then rolled out
throughout the group. “Many people who
run successful stations are risk-averse,” Abernethy
says. “Jeff is extremely entrepreneurial.
If I have a project that doesn’t come with a
playbook, Jeff is the guy I give it to.”

Abernethy says Murri has a knack for rallying
the troops behind his initiatives, not because he’s
the boss, but through an infectious enthusiasm
and willingness to roll up his sleeves and help
new programs take fiight. Abernethy mentions
Murri painting an LNS office in the building one
Saturday prior to its opening and working the
phones for a new WJBK online dating platform.

Murri says the vast outreach practiced at
WJBK isn’t just about helping the community;
the various initiatives provide a steady flow of
news stories, color and flavor about real-life
Detroiters. “It’s one of the benefits of going
deeper,” he says. “We can do things that, quite
honestly, the others can’t.”

The son of an auto industry worker, Murri
is ecstatic to be tasked with doing right by
Detroit. “It’s always nice to be a part of a city’s
rebirth,” he says. “Especially in your own

Michael Malone

Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.