WTVH 5 lays off news staff; merges with WSTM 3

Russ Tarby 03/03/09More articles
From his heavenly cloud, Ron Curtis surely shakes his head in shame.

His once proud news operation at WTVH-CBS 5 was devastated Monday March 2, when its owner merged the CBS affiliate with WSTM-NBC 3 and its sister station WSTQ-CW 6. More than three dozen WTVH news and production staffers were laid off.

The casualities at channel 5 included familiar faces such as anchors Keith Kobland and Donna Adamo, sports director Kevin Maher, weekend anchor Chuck Plumpton and chief meteorologist Tom Hauf. Those who are laid off are receiving three-months’ severance pay.
The cutbacks were caused by WTVH’s longtime low ratings and slow ad sales. For many years, WSYR-ABC 9 newscasts have topped local ratings, with WSTM second and WTVH a distant third.

No noon news
For the first time in decades, WTVH failed to telecast its weekday noon news on March 2, airing a paid infomercial for women’s cosmetics instead.

At 5 p.m. WSTM anchors Matt Mulcahy and Jackie Robinson opened WTVH’s evening news with an interview with Chris Geiger, president and chief executive officer of WSTM. Major changes will not be implemented overnight, Geiger said, but he predicted that news will be aired at different time slots in the future.

Each station will have its own managing editor, Geiger said. Sometimes, one reporter and one camera person will cover a story for all three stations. Other times, they may send teams from each station. Weather and sports will be provided to all three stations by the same team. All of the operations will eventually move to WSTM’s facility at 1030 James St.

Since Barrington also operates the Weather Plus station, broadcasts in high definition and has online presence on, “We’ll be multi-platformed,” said Geiger, who will oversee all operations.

Mulcahy agreed. “It’s a big conglomerate,” he said. Coincidentally Mulcahy had worked for WTVH from 1997 to 2005.

Benny hangs on
After chatting with their boss, Mulcahy and Robinson tossed Monday evening’s broadcast to Michael Benny, who had been executive producer of WTVH’s newscasts and anchor at 5:30 and 6 p.m. Now a member of the merger transition team, Benny is one of about five Channel 5 news employees to hang onto a job. The entire WTVH sales staff has apparently been retained.

On the March 2 evening telecast, Benny thanked the WTVH audience for its “loyalty” before launching into a story about Monday’s massive Wall Street stock slump.
The WSTM-WTVH merger will have a serious, longstanding effect on the quantity and quality of television news in CNY, which will now be served by just two local TV news operations, WSTM’s Action News and WSYR’s NewsChannel 9.

Time Warner’s cable-TV news operation, News 10 Now, originates out of Albany while its locally based reporter-and-camera crews cover occasional Syracuse stories.
The bad news about TV news broke after a 10 a.m. staff meeting Monday at WTVH, 980 James St. Matthew Rosenfeld, the station’s vice president of sales since April, made the announcement. While most of those he addressed were being fired, Rosenfeld told them he’ll continue working in another TV market, for WTVH owner Granite Broadcasting Corporation of New York City.

Previous Channel 3 layoffs
WSTM is owned by Barrington Broadcasting Co. LLC, based in Illinois. Both Barrington and Granite are controlled by private investment firms. Granite, which declared bankruptcy in late-2006 is operated by Silver Point Capital, while Barrington is owned by the Pilot Group.
A similar merger is being arranged in Peoria, Ill., where Granite and Barrington each has a TV station. In Peoria, Granite will supply services to Barrington’s outlet, the exact opposite of the Syracuse situation.
WSTM recently bid goodbye to two of its more prominent newsmen. Anchor Don Lark was let go in January, and evening anchor Kevin Shenk followed Lark out the door in February.

Even public broadcaster WCNY-TV 24 has suffered recent layoffs. The half-dozen who lost their jobs at the PBS affiliate included longtime production crew chief Steve Parton and award-winning producer-videographer John Walsh.
But Monday’s massacre on James Street will be the one that most changes the way CNY viewers get their news.
Channel 5 made local history when it went on the air in 1948 as Syracuse’s first television station. Ron Curtis worked at Channel 5 from 1959 to 1999, and was the station’s noon and 6p.m. anchorman during its ratings heyday in the 1980s. Curtis died in 2001, and in his honor part of James Street has been dubbed “Ron Curtis Boulevard.”

TV bosses predict rosy future
Regarding the WSTM-WTVH merger, which led to more than three dozen layoffs at Channel 5, the big bosses at WSTM owner Barrington Broadcasting and WTVH owner Granite Broadcasting Corporation seem to be viewing the TV picture through rose-colored glasses.
Barrington’s Chief Executive Officer Jim Yager stated, “We are delighted to be working with a forward-thinking company like Granite. Together, our companies and stations will focus the combined resources of these great stations on becoming even better community citizens and at the same time providing measurable benefits for our viewers and advertisers.”

And Granite Broadcasting Corporation’s Chief Executive Officer Don Cornwell said, “This arrangement provides opportunities for substantial operating efficiencies by allowing us to use existing infrastructure to expand the breadth of local news and services provided to the viewers of Central NY, while enhancing the revenue and profitability of both stations.”
For their part, area TV viewers will believe it when they see it.

CATEGORY: News & Media
TAGS: Matt Mulcahy,Jackie Robinson,WSTM,anchors,Chris Geiger,Ron Curtis,Keith Kobland and Donna Adamo,WSTM-NBC,Kevin Maher,WSTQ-CW 6,news,Chuck Plumpton,broadcast,Michael Benny,meteorologist Tom Hauf
EDITION: The Eagle

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