Taking ‘On Your Side’ To Heart

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Gannett's WGRZ has moved from also-ran to market leader in Buffalo under president and GM Jim Toellner. The Western New York native and University of Buffalo grad credits the turnaround to the unique bond the station has created with the community.

WGRZ’s “On Your Side” branding has high recognition, and Toellner offers an example of living up to the brand and “holding the powerful accountable” as the turning point for the station. When a budget crisis in Erie County left either a tax hike or service cuts looming, other stations covered it—barely— while WGRZ embraced it, taking the government to task.

“We thought we would take a stand for the community,” Toellner says. “We had three or four reporters stationed [at] County Hall covering different aspects of this complex story.” The coverage left a lasting impression.

Toellner then went about creating stronger ties with the community through news coverage. A partnership with the nonprofit Investigative Post gives WGRZ content focused on key local issues and on-air appearances by IP founder and former Buffalo News reporter Jim Heaney.

Through the deal, WGRZ gets “incredible content and can allocate hundreds of manhours to stories that would be difficult for us to do with our staff size,” Toellner says.

The GM saw mornings as key to winning other parts of the day. He allocated more resources to the daypart; WGRZ is the only station in the DMA with a 4:30 a.m. newscast.

Toellner also struck a deal with the University of Buffalo for sports coverage. “Our partnership will give us some unique and passionate niche programming,” says Toellner. Football and basketball games air will air weekly on the main station and a minimum of 10 basketball games will air on the digital channel. For WGRZ and its viewers, that’s what they call a win-win.