Jordan Wertlieb, president of Hearst Television since 2013, got out of college armed with degrees in communications and political science and an eye toward reporting on the seismic shifts of the day — Vietnam and Watergate. Instead, he became the executive who helped others succeed in news, programming and sales. And the role of “coach” appears to be just fine with him, and with the company that has put him in charge of its multiplatform media operation.
“I thought I would be the guy holding the microphone,” the new B&C Hall of Fame member said, “and now I am the guy behind the microphone, but I got to where I wanted to be.”
That is presiding over Hearst’s 31 TV stations, digital properties and two radio stations, as well as mentoring future leaders.
After a brief brush with the editorial side, Wertlieb concluded his passion for the broadcasting business would be better served elsewhere.
Shift to Sales
Wertlieb did some work for a small community radio station in his home county and overnight producing for all-news radio station WINS in New York. But he was applying for jobs in TV and radio — he was turned down for the NBC Page Program, which he said he teases NBC about, as Hearst owns most of a dozen NBC affiliates.
He landed a job at TV rep firm Katz in 1986 as a sales assistant and then in research.
Among his station clients was Hearst; Hearst was obviously pleased with the pairing. In 1993, Hearst hired him away from Katz to be national sales manager at WCVB Boston, then general sales manager at WBAL Baltimore before moving to upper management and New York.
“Quite simply, Jordan Wertlieb is a leader who exemplifies the best in broadcasting,” National Association of Broadcasters president Gordon Smith said. “He has few peers in his passion for localism, his defense of the First Amendment and his knowledge that broadcasters make a positive difference in the communities we serve. Jordan dedicates enormous time and energy serving on the NAB Board, and we are a better organization because of his commitment.”
Sales is often the career track for TV station upper management, and it definitely was for Wertlieb. Asked why that is the case, he cited a number of reasons.
“Being revenue-focused is important because of the business side,” he said. “Plus, being customer-focused as a salesperson translates perfectly to being viewer-focused, because those are our customers as well.“
Salespeople also have to be able to change their game plans fairly quickly, which works particularly well in today’s changing media landscape, where he said that is a “required asset.”
Asked what he thinks is a manager’s greatest strength, Wertlieb says being consistent about what a company’s mission is, and finding ways to keep everyone “growing and engaged.”
Wertlieb says the most fun part of his job is developing talent. “We have a number of general managers, news directors, sales managers, department heads that have started at our company as either interns or in entry-level jobs,” he said, “and through their own growth and our investment in their growth have emerged as leaders of our company and future leaders of our industry. “
“I love sports and I love when coaches retire and they show the coaching tree, and what current coaches were taught by their predecessor,” he added.
The University of Michigan graduate cited longtime Wolverines football coach Bo Schembechler, who said the best leaders create the next generation of leaders.
He also likes visiting Hearst’s local stations to watch that talent, and the “special relationship they have with their market,” in action. His least favorite part of the job? “Constantly trying to defend our industry from naysayers who believe broadcasting is an antiquated business.”
Far from being a dinosaur headed for the tar pits, Wertlieb said he believes local broadcasting has the key to being a leading multiplatform player — localism, and that trusted relationship with the communities it serves.
“I think that broadcasters are innovating on a digital platform more than people recognize,” he said. “In our case, we’ve launched a product called Stitch [for ‘stitching together the fabric of America’] on social media that shows the more positive human interest stories.
“I think there are a number of exciting initiatives that stations are doing,” Wertlieb continued. “I would not underestimate the creativity and innovativeness of local broadcasters. At the end of the day, once digital and TV are merged as an agnostic platform, broadcasters are going to have a very strong advertising and viewing proposition.”
All Public Service Is Local
Hearst has committed to a yearlong project combating the opioid crisis, but Wertlieb said broadcasters’ principal public-service commitment should be to whatever issue is of most importance to their local market. The opioid crisis fit that description for Hearst’s WMUR in Manchester, N.H., station, where rates of the drug’s misuse were the highest in the country. It has been focused on that issue for the past three years.
Wertlieb cited David Barrett, his predecessor; Hearst executive vice chairman Frank Bennack; and Hearst Corp. president Steven Swartz as mentors. He said he has never taken a job where he did not expect his boss to be a mentor.
That should be the standard career choice over money or promotion, he suggested, because the opportunities will come “and you can use what you have learned from those mentors to take advantage of those opportunities.”
Wertlieb has clearly practiced what he preaches.
“Jordan is an exemplary leader and a champion of high-quality journalism and community service,” Swartz said.