Do Market Natives Make Better Station Leaders? - Broadcasting & Cable

Do Market Natives Make Better Station Leaders?

Four out of the five station leaders we saluted in our GM of the Year/News Director of the Year package are working in their hometown markets. Does that bring out the best in local TV leadership?
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One thing that jumped out at me when we were putting together our General Manager of the Year/News Director of the Year/Multiplatform Broadcaster of the Year package from Dec. 23 was how many of our awardees were working in the markets in which they were raised. Certainly a GM can excel in a new market, and can adopt the place as his or her hometown if they work and live there long enough; a station chief's life is nothing if not nomadic. But it wouldn't be difficult to make the case that running a station, or a station newsroom, in the town you grew up in brings out the best in you.

WCVB Boston was at its best after the terrorists struck at the Boston Marathon, which takes place on a local holiday known as Patriots' Day. Boston's sports championships and high achievers associated with elite universities such as Harvard and MIT make the city seem giant, which it is not. Bill Fine, WCVB president and GM, says the bombing was intensely personal. "Everybody knew somebody who was running the Boston Marathon,” he said. “It was not six degrees of separation—it was one or two.”

Fine's pals call him "Boomerang Bill" for the number of times he's moved back to the market; maybe it's the New England setting, but hearing that made me think of the appropriately named Homer from John Irving's brilliant The Cider House Rules—the orphan who kept being returned to the orphanage because, ultimately, it was precisely where he belonged.

Fine is working about a mile from his childhood home. Here's what he wrote for B&C about how the local broadcasters responded to the bombing.

Our GM of the Year for markets 51-100 was Jim Toellner at WGRZ Buffalo. He grew up in Western New York and attended the University of Buffalo. Toellner has stabilized what was a revolving door in the GM spot at the station, and the On Your Side branding may just have extra resonance when the local boy is trumpeting it.

Down in markets 101-plus, Bill Stewart, GM at WJBF and WAGT in Augusta, Ga., has lived and worked in the market his entire life. "I had opportunities to go to other markets, but turned them down for the chance to be close to family," he said.

And over in the local news world, News Director of the Year Mikel Schaefer too is toiling in his home market of New Orleans. He spent 24 years at WWL before shifting to WVUE, which is locally owned and goes with the tagline of New Orleans' Home Team. Schaefer may be losing his NOLA accent a bit after all the trips to New York to claim awards—the station is getting a duPont Columbia again this year—but he is very much a product of the unique market. "We know what's important to the community," he said. "We reflect what the city is—the good and the bad."

Schaefer wrote the book "Lost in Katrina", about the devastation of his home parish, St. Bernard, after the hurricane.

(Our winner for Multiplatform Broadcaster of the Year was ABC for its standout mobile app, Watch ABC.)

So the one exception among our GMs and News Director of the Year is Bob Ellis, top dog at WJXT Jacksonville. But Bob comes close—he's a Detroit native who spent 15 years at WDIV Detroit, ultimately as news director, before getting the nod to take over WJXT. With temps below zero in his hometown this past week, maybe starting afresh in Florida wasn't such a bad idea.

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