Picky Picky (Vol. 16) -- your right to know (?)
08/25/08 11:07 AM
By ED BARK
Bodies have been flying lately, some by choice and others very much against their wills.
Whatever the circumstances, anchors and reporters have been exiting D-FW television newsrooms in unprecedented numbers in the past year. It's pretty much half-and-half between those who are voluntarily changing careers or stations and others getting axed because of budget cuts or alleged on-the-job deficiencies.
WFAA8 anchor Macie Jepson, laid off last week after eight years with the station, never saw it coming according to sources within the newsroom. Efforts to reach her, via various intermediaries, have been unsuccessful so far. She reportedly is still very shaken by how suddenly it all ended for her at WFAA8.
Station management usually will confirm an employee departure if asked, but infrequently volunteers such news. Beyond that, the standard policy is either a flat "no comment" or a generic one-size-fits-all response. You're a promotable part of the news "family" until the day you become a non-person. Literally, it's then nothing personal.
Dismissed employees also are often afraid or reluctant to say much. TXA21/CBS11 anchor Kenneth Taylor, a generally outgoing guy whose contract recently wasn't renewed, has virtually vanished without a trace. But did he really "owe" viewers at least a goodbye? And did management owe him anything other than paying his salary for the duration of a two-year contract?
Some discarded employees, such as former NBC5 early morning meteorologist Rebecca Miller, have been willing to go to bat for themselves. Ex-Fox4 reporter Rebecca Aguilar, terminated earlier this year after a lengthy suspension, also chose to give her side of the story in no uncertain terms and has pending legal action against the station.
In an earlier era, both station management and aggrieved employees were far more willing to take their chances in the public arena. As documented in a previously posted Back Channels post, sports anchor Dale Hansen and his onetime bosses at KDFW-TV (Channel 4) played rock 'em, sock 'em robots in the brief period before he became an institution at WFAA8.
Hardly anyone plays that game anymore. Lawyers increasingly are willing and able to pounce, so much so that even a benign statement such as "We wish (fill in the blank) well" is thought to be a possibly risky proposition. It's gotten to the point where wishing someone well might imply a job well done. And if that's the case, then why has that person been let go?
So in Jepson's case, management declined to say anything at all about an eight-year employee who reportedly left in tears after WFAA8 pretty much blindsided her.
Judging from the high volume of reader comments -- 58 and counting as of this writing -- many of you both empathize with Jepson and want to know more about why she's suddenly history at WFAA8. But are you entitled to even that much? Here are three talking points:
A. Media companies, ostensibly operating in the public interest, have an obvious obligation to be more forthcoming about the dismissals of on-camera personnel in particular. After all, they're constantly prying into other people's lives. And those who won't play ball with them regularly are portrayed as having something to hide.
B. Media companies aren't immune from lawsuits and have to protect themselves with the same diligence and vigilance as the "private sector." Yes, they come into your homes and solicit your loyalty to their newscasts. But personnel decisions in the end are their own business.
C. It's enough simply to know who's coming and who's going. Beyond that who cares why or how? People change jobs all the time, whether by choice or otherwise. The people who work in TV news aren't royalty. Good night and good luck and move on.
Your comments are welcome.