Monday, June 19, 2006

Fox 4 KC Lays Off Newsies

Ax falls at WDAF newsroom
The Kansas City Star

Fox may have been the hottest network in prime time this season, but it wasn’t enough to save 13 jobs at the WDAF-TV newsroom.

Fox 4 on Friday laid off reporters Tom Gauer, Peter Marshall and Jason Friedman and sportscaster Jason Lamb. Other names could not be confirmed, but it was thought that half or more of the 13 cuts had come from the news department, which has about 100 employees.

The move was a surprise, because Fox 4’s ratings were up in May, thanks to the juggernaut of “American Idol” and Fox hits like “House” and “24.”

The station’s share of the audience for its 10 p.m. newscast jumped 13 percent compared with May 2005. Even its early news at 5 p.m. was up. Ratings for the three other news stations in town were generally down.

A spokesman for News Corp., which owns WDAF, 34 other stations and the Fox network, would not confirm the layoffs. But by Friday afternoon, rival newsrooms had received inquiries and resumes from recently released WDAF employees.

Gauer, who had spent 11½ years at Fox 4, said his first order of business would be “to sleep in on Monday.” Gauer said that while he wanted to return to news if it was “at the right place,” he is working on other ventures, such as a quiz show he’s developing with his business partner, “Young & the Restless” star Kristoff St. John.
There was no sign Friday that similar firings were taking place at other Fox-owned stations.

So why WDAF?

One possibility is that the station is being primed for a sale. A trade magazine reported in 2005 that Fox was considering the sale of stations in markets that were 25th in size or smaller. Kansas City is the 31st-largest media market.

Another possibility is that it was a staff-size adjustment dictated by Dennis Swanson, the new head of Fox’s owned-and-operated stations, in an effort to bolster WDAF in the Kansas City market

Swanson, a former Marine, told the publication Broadcasting & Cable last year that “TV stations are like big battleships in the harbor … they turn around very slowly.”
WDAF is an especially large ship. It has by far the largest newsroom in the Kansas City TV market and puts on a hefty 49 hours of news programming per week. As the very first station to sign on, in 1949, WDAF has had a history of being a leader in the market. It still broadcasts a popular morning news program, but its late newscasts lag considerably behind KMBC-9 and KCTV-5 in the ratings groups most prized by advertisers.

It has tried rebranding its Problem Solvers unit, tacking on the word “investigators” in what appeared to be a reaction to the success of KCTV’s investigative unit.

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