Station Break

Little DMA, big news

"Who says lightning doesn't strike twice?" asked WTAJ-TV Johnstown-Altoona, Pa., News Director Jim Frank, after the nation's attention had turned to his small, DMA No. 96, market for the second time in less than a year. Frank says he saw his station's footage not only on CNN but also on New York's WPIX(TV) over local cable the morning after the story broke.

The story of the rescue of nine coal miners was considerably happier than the major event last year, when a hijacked plane crashed only 10 miles away, in the same town of Somerset Sept. 11.

Local news directors say they learned from last year's big story but still went up against staffing difficulties and will face budgeting difficulties due to the overtime, satellite costs and commercial preemptions from the rescue story. "The miners are out of the hole," said WJAC-TV News Director Gary Cooper, "but we're not."

Cooper's station was apparently first at the scene, getting the story on its late news the Wednesday night it broke, to be followed by other local, nearby, and eventually nationally and internationally known news outlets. "The person next to us might be from the Today
show, or it might be Geraldo Rivera," said Cooper. The station's knowledge of the area helped it cover live the miners' post-rescue arrival at local hospitals.

Cooper was candid about an error in a station report, in which a source the station deemed reliable confused a broken drill bit with breaking through to the trapped miners. "We were being aggressive," said Cooper, "and it's hard to double-check in that situation."

Big as the story was, not everyone appreciated the frequent interruptions in regular programming. Frank said the station had to use one of its newscasts to inform viewers "who was voted out of the house on Big Brother."

Too close for comfort

Former KTVX(TV) Salt Lake City health reporter Holly Wayment has sued the station and owner Clear Channel, charging that she was wrongfully terminated and later defamed by the station—which she says hurt her chances at subsequent employment.

Wayment's complaint says the station fired her after she discussed with a local cancer center the creation of a volunteer program for patients and families, and station representatives have since suggested she was working for the facility or taking money from it.

Station management and attorneys said they would not address pending litigation. But station sources say no one at the station believes Wayment sought financial gain, but questioned the appropriateness of a beat reporter's cultivating a relationship with an organization she covered.

Wayment says the station is community-oriented and staffers are encouraged to participate in charitable efforts, while a station source likened her situation to a political reporter's working for a campaign.

WGRZ sued for bias

WGRZ-TV Buffalo, N.Y., reporter-anchor Carol Kaplan has sued her station and owner Gannett, contending age, race and gender bias in her removal from an anchor spot earlier this year. Kaplan, who is 41 and white, was replaced by Bazi Kanani, an African-American woman in her 20s. Kaplan also says she was paid less than male counterparts.

Kaplan had been told the moves were based on station research, but she says they are illegal nonetheless. Station management could not be reached for comment.

Kaplan acknowledged the prominent lawsuit could damage her career, but said "that's not my immediate concern. My immediate concern is dealing with what I feel were illegal actions."

Swanson moves fast

The Viacom station group's new COO, Dennis Swanson, may be moving at a pace akin to that of Kevin O'Brien when he took over the Meredith station group.

Swanson hired his second general manager as he himself began only his third week on the job: Gary Schneider was named president and general manager of Viacom's KEYE-TV Austin, Texas. Schneider, who sold his company, ROI Interactive, last year, had been president of multimedia production company Sky Television and ran Gaylord Entertainment's KHWB(TV) Houston and KSTW(TV) Seattle.

The $110 million-plus Austin market has some big players and high stakes. Fox also has an O&O there; the other two affiliates are owned by LIN Television and Belo.