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Debbie Turner: Tennessee’s Titan - Broadcasting & Cable

Debbie Turner: Tennessee’s Titan

Debbie Turner keeps WTVF ahead in Nashville using strategic “special sauce” and plenty of pizza
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The station sale that fell through... The flood that knocked out the newsroom... The sticky DTV channel switch...The station sale that did go through.

It has been a challenging few years for Debbie Turner, WTVF Nashville president and GM. But, like Nietzsche famously said, that which does not kill us makes us stronger. "There's a lot that's happened that you'd prefer not happen," Turner says. But it made the team more united."

Rallying behind their leader, the WTVF team stayed focused. When sewage cascaded into the newsroom during Nashville's 2010 flood, there was Turner, in waders, trying to salvage equipment. "When you see your boss do that, it's inspirational to everybody," says Mark Binda, WTVF program and research director.

Between the days off and the pizza, it's a wonder the crew gets anything done. Staffers get a comp day when WTVF wins every newscast in a sweeps, and pizza when it wins all the overnight races. (So frequent were the overnight victories that the staffers, suffering a little pizza fatigue, now celebrate "virtual" Pizza Days.) The 6 p.m. race went down to the wire in November. "We did everything humanly possible to drive audience," Turner says, mentioning constant plugs on Twitter and Facebook (WTVF has 116,000 Facebook fans). When the numbers came in, staffers had another day off.

Perhaps a better measure of WTVF's dominance is on the national stage. It was the No. 1 CBS affiliate in the Top 30 markets for signon- to-sign-off, primetime and morning news, and is in the top 3 at 4 p.m., 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. When Landmark put WTVF on the block in 2008, Turner says she shed tears. A deal fell through amidst the recession.

When Landmark sought to sell the station this year, she was all business. "This time around, I knew it would happen," Turner says. "It was my job to get it done."

Journal Communications paid a handsome $215 million, closing on WTVF Dec. 6. The price "says a lot about what our team delivers," Turner says.

"NewsChannel5" thrives on a crack sixperson investigative team, an exceptionally diverse staff and a robust digital strategy. With a new owner that's clearly devoted to broadcasting, WTVF will likely get stronger.

"Journal provides us with resources we currently don't have," says Turner, mentioning the scale of an outfit with 14 TV stations. "They look to us for how to improve their organization. They're excited to see what the secret sauce is here."

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