Channel 3 loses staff and gains new direction

How be thee, News-3?

Rebooted under the seasoned supervision of ex-Channel 8 news chief Bob Stoldal three weeks back — after a previous regime left the newsroom professionally weakened and personally disgruntled, as claimed by insiders — we peek in on a station in rehab.

They’re suffering from withdrawal — of staff. Confirmed by GM Lisa Howfield: 14 employees axed, nine in the newsroom — two producers, six photographers and reporter Katherine Whaley, following departures of Mitch Truswell, whose contract was not renewed, and Tiffany De Leon, whose exit was unrelated to layoffs. More to come? “I hope not,” Howfield says.

Where’s that leave the Watching-Out-For-You Crew? We quizzed the accessible (hint to zipper-mouthed Channel 13) Stoldal, who acknowledged that three remaining staff producers and five weekday newscasts necessitated some “redefined” responsibilities:

Last week this column monitored a day of News-3 newscasts, excepting “Wake Up with the Wagners.” Of all local stories — totaled from around a dozen repeated throughout the day — only 11 of 57 were fronted by reporters. Is the staff too thin?

“I’m making a move to buttress the reporting staff. Are we reorganizing and prioritizing the staff? Yes. But story count has never been important to me. Story content, storytelling, story selection is more important. I’ve told reporters they are not locked into a minute-30 (seconds), that they have time to tell stories. … I’m looking to focus on hard news and investigative and enterprise reports. You’re not going to see surfing squirrels. … Without telegraphing anything to my competitors, you’re going to see topics that need to be dealt with.”

And rumors that in eyeing that goal, you’re pursuing your pal, Channel 8’s (Peabody Award-winning) investigative reporter George Knapp?

“George and I have been more than friends for three decades. The opportunity to have George Knapp at Channel 3 would be a plus. To have him at any media outlet in this town — television, radio or newspaper — would be a plus. Whether that comes to fruition, I don’t know.”

How is newsroom morale?

“Improving. People are understanding there is a solid direction we’re moving toward. Changes have had an impact on morale. We’re clearly headed in the right direction and I’m optimistic.”

Though some unhappy undercurrents buzz through the Channel 3 halls over vanishing colleagues — certainly understandable — and insiders privately insist that owner Jim Rogers’ management style is overbearing, indicators of how Stoldal might reinvent News-3 happily dovetail with some suggestions made here:

Treating a newscast as a journalism showcase, not a headline service. Committing to, as Howfield has described it, “a better way to do news.” And Stoldal previously alluded to interactive newscast elements.

But Bob: Why the grudge against aquatic rodents?

Surely there’s an Emmy or even a Peabody in the investigative series, “The Littlest Kahuna: Inside The Secret World of Rocky the Surfing Squirrel.”

Contact reporter Steve Bornfeld at sbornfeld@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0256.

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