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On Top of the Town

Mazzaferri has a key to Tribune TV 5/29/2005 08:00:00 PM Eastern

Sears Tower may be the tallest building in Chicago and the United States, but when it comes to media power, the Tribune Tower rules the town. Gina Mazzaferri, Tribune Broadcasting’s VP, strategy and administration, since March 2004, plays a big role keeping Tribune on a roll.

In 1996 she was working for Weigel Broadcasting’s WCIU, the feisty independent station that is as little in Chicago as WGN is large.

But “in Chicago, you always want to work in the Tribune Tower—so when the opportunity came up, it was a thrill,” says Mazzaferri, who at first signed on to administer operations for six smaller stations Tribune had just acquired.

RISK AND REWARD

Today, she finds herself at the center of Tribune Broadcasting’s future, helping to figure out what business plans and developments make the most financial sense for the company, and also making sure Tribune’s 26 stations—among them, WGN Chicago, WPIX New York and KTLA Los Angeles—have the resources needed to maintain top-level news and broadcast operations.

With wireless services, mobile-phone video, and even HDTV and multicasting gaining traction, Mazzaferri finds herself constantly challenged to keep up with an ever growing slate of revenue opportunities and risks.

“These are fun, scary times where people are at a crossroads of a lot of new wireless technologies,” says Mazzaferri. “Now we just have to figure out how people will use those technologies and find the business model that works. Consumers will want those products: Now we have to build the long-term business.”

Navigating those technologies can be tricky for anyone. Mazzaferri, however, finds herself in the enviable position of working closely with Ira Goldstone, Tribune’s director of broadcast operations, considered by many to be one of the top technology minds.

“Ira comes up with the great ideas, and then he asks me if we can put a business around it,” says Mazzaferri. The two work closely together, developing new ideas like a centralized graphics facility so that stations can share graphics, making it easier for the TV stations to access photos taken for Tribune-owned newspapers.

Both of those help improve the local-news product Mazzaferri believes is more important than ever.

“With viewers having so many options with how to spend their viewing time, stations need to make sure their programming is a little unique. And at the end of the day, there are only a few places a viewer can get local news,” she says. “It’s about reaching out and providing to the community.”

MAKES TECH MAKE SENSE

For that reason, she says, Tribune doesn’t take on projects like centralized news operations that may save money (and make her job easier) but aren’t essential to the success of a local broadcaster.

Mazzaferri, who turns 41 in July, graduated from Ohio University in Athens with a communications degree. Her first job out of college turned out to be a perfect example of the wrong fit: She sold radio spots for WBBG Cleveland, an AM radio station that played nothing but Big Band music. Tired of selling spots (and the music), Mazzaferri headed for an MBA and joined Price Waterhouse in 1988 as an audit manager. After seven years, she moved to Weigel Broadcasting and then to Tribune two years later.

Tribune Broadcasting President Pat Mullen says Mazzaferri soaks up technological information and has the skill to summarize it for him in an understandable way. “She has a tremendous grasp on all areas of the business,” he says. “She certainly comes with a financial and strategy background, but she has a very broad view of the entire business.”

Her career philosophy is simple: “I always try to feel a little trepidation when I take a new position,” she says. “If I feel like I already know how to do the job, it would be boring.”

Her strategy at work is to try to make the person she is working for succeed and, in turn, give those who report to her a chance to succeed. “Communication and bringing people together is important,” she says. “This position also requires me to do my homework, stand up for the things I believe in, and listen and ask for help. You always need to find the people who can help you navigate the landmines.”

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