The news business is rarely quiet, but Mark Effron hardly had time to try out his new work ID when the WPIX New York newsroom was in full-coverage mode, with two crews working the Boston bombing aftermath and the station going wall to wall for extended periods. While WPIX is hardly a factor in the New York news scene nowadays, VP and news director Effron hopes the station—which was live from 4 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. April 19, among other long stretches—sent a message to viewers about its dedication to local news.
“I think we did something significant,” he says. “We didn’t let the fact that we are not connected to a network [news organization] affect our coverage. And not only do I think we covered it in a responsible way—I think we did it in an interesting way too.”
Effron brings a colorful resume to Tribune. He was vice president of news and daytime programming at MSNBC; news director at WFSB Hartford; and VP of news at the Post-Newsweek group. More recently, he was president and COO of TitanTV, helping the listings guide move into original productions while working alongside future Syncbak founder Jack Perry. A proclaimed “producer at heart,” he was most recently general manager and executive producer at the public radio program The Takeaway.
Eric Meyrowitz, WPIX vice president and general manager, says Effron’s varied background is a plus. “He’s got vast news experience in broadcast, cable, radio and digital,” Meyrowitz says. “He’s got a proven track record of success everywhere he’s been.”
Effron will have to work extra hard to keep his hot streak going. Founded in 1948, WPIX is in a tough spot. As Effron notes, the station does not have the network news big brothers that the Big Four in the market enjoy. As a CW affiliate, it’s got a young viewership coming out of prime that doesn’t watch TV news the way a CBS audience does. And it’s got the longtime dysfunction of parent Tribune, though that situation stabilized as the company emerged from bankruptcy and brought respected broadcasters Peter Liguori and Larry Wert on board.
Popular WPIX GM Betty Ellen Berlamino was let go in 2010. News director Bill Carey resigned in the fall, and 10 p.m. anchor Jodi Applegate departed in December to raise her baby. WPIX’s news product, according to industry insiders in New York, has been scattershot: talent on their feet and on the move on the set, engaging in casual conversation on news stories that goes on longer than typical happy talk, and opinion-driven commentary from some offbeat characters. One TV news veteran calls it “dizzying.”
The station, which famously used “Cash Grab” watchand- win promos in the past, is now a ratings also-ran. WPIX posted a 1 household and 0.5 adults 25-54 rating at 5 p.m. in February—a distant fifth place—and a 1.4 household and 0.6 adults 25-54 rating at 10 p.m., well off Fox O&O WNYW’s 3.5 and 1.9.
That said, the New York watchers give “PIX11” credit for sound work in Boston—WNYC radio and Huffington Post were among the media outlets to link to WPIX’s coverage—and say Effron brings solid news chops and an even temperament to the newsroom.
With just a few days under his belt, Effron wasn’t about to share much of his strategy. He says WPIX will cover local politics with relish (New York politics is “like the WWE,” he says), will put resources into strong franchises such as consumer-focused “Help Me Howard,” and is likely to stay involved in Local News Share (LNS). He says he won’t resort to gimmicks. “No dancing girls, no singing chimps,” he promises.
Effron says WPIX’s Boston coverage was strong and hopes it serves as a blueprint for other breaking news stories the station can sink its teeth into. “I think we let everybody know, both internally and externally, that we’re serious about news,” he says.
Effron was attracted to the post because of Tribune’s emergence from Chapter 11 and the enduring reputations of Liguori and Wert, and also because it represented a chance for the Bronx-born broadcaster to get back into TV news—smack in the heart of the nation’s largest DMA from WPIX’s 42nd Street perch.
“I appreciate local news more since I’ve been away,” Effron says. “And I have some ideas on how to make it better.”
E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter: @BCMikeMalone
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