UPDATED: Ignoring their competitive urges for the moment, WDBJ Roanoke’s rivals in DMA No. 66 are offering to help the station in any manner following the murders of two journalists at WDBJ Wednesday morning. Not long after word of the tragedy got out, Garry Kelly, WSLS president and general manager, contacted Jeffrey Marks, his counterpart at WDBJ. Kelly offered reporters, photographers, food — “whatever,” he says.
With WDBJ under lockdown until the shooter was corralled, Kelly says Marks requested video to help get the station’s newscasts on air. Kelly happily obliged.
“You do put down your competitive differences and try to help,” says Kelly. “I’m sure Jeff would do the same for us.”
WSLS is a Media General-owned NBC affiliate. Kelly says the offer was extended at the corporate level too, with Deb McDermott, Media General senior VP and chief operating officer, making the call to Marci Burdick, senior VP of broadcast at WDBJ parent Schurz. “It was, what do you need?” says Kelly. “Whatever you need, we can make it happen.”
Nexstar is the owner of Fox affiliate WFXR and Sinclair has ABC outlet WSET. Those station chiefs were not available for comment at presstime on an emotionally draining day. In a statement, Sinclair offered its "sincere condolences" to the families of Parker and Ward, and to its "colleagues" at WDBJ and Schurz. “Moments like this remind us how much we appreciate all that our staffs do for our communities," said David Smith, Sinclair president and CEO. "WDBJ7 should know that our Roanoke station, WSET, is there to help in any way during this difficult time.”
Stations in a common market do at times pitch in with each other in time of need. In June, the three main rivals to KFOR Oklahoma City reached out to KFOR management after the station’s popular sports director Bob Barry Jr. was killed in a motorcycle accident, offering their help around the newsroom so that KFOR staffers could attend Barry’s funeral.
Kelly says the tragedy was a reminder that everyone in the local TV scene, regardless of their station, is in it together. “If anything,” he says, “this reminds us not be callous at times.”