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Prominent newspaper veterans are making bold splashes for stations
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As the newspaper industry continues to hemorrhage readers, not to mention reporters, a few prominent print veterans have left the inky world behind for high-profile gigs in local television. Charlie LeDuff, late of the New York Times and Detroit News, has been delivering offbeat commentary and investigative work on WJBK Detroit since December, while Ted Nesi, formerly of Providence Business News, has done investigative journalism for WPRI Providence for close to a year. Both have made a mark in TV despite their short tenures.

“Some reporters work their whole career to get the kind of attention Charlie has,” says Dana Hahn, news director at WJBK. “He sets the agenda here in town.”

Newspapers have been crushed by the availability of free online news. Gannett’s publishing holdings posted a 6.2% decline in operating revenue in the first quarter, while Scripps showed a 5.7% decrease. Considerable layoffs in that sector have freed up numerous talented, if not always telegenic, reporters, while others have departed newspapers on their own to report for healthier media outlets.

Late in 2009, 22-year New York Times vet and author Jack Curry left the paper to report on baseball for the YES Network. Rob Nelson shifted from the Times-Picayune to WWL New Orleans; he now anchors for ABC News. Last week, Florida newspaper vet Bob Norman started doing investigative work for WPLG Miami.

LeDuff and Nesi are used by their stations very differently. LeDuff writes an online column, “Off the Chain,” about street-level life in Detroit, and appears on the air a few times a week. Just about everything related to his quirky on-air appearance runs counter to the stereotype of the polished TV reporter, and he (and, apparently, his managers) wouldn’t have it any other way. LeDuff, 45, says he’s been impressed with how quickly on-air reporters can turn smart stories around, compared to the newspaper competition. It’s helped chip away at the low regard some print people have for TV news. “I thought TV people were stupid, and ripped off your work,” says LeDuff. “It’s true to some extent, but TV people are really smart.”

Nesi, meanwhile, plotted his break from newspapers with a bold email to Jay Howell, WPRI president and general manager, outlining a job he described as a “full-time news blogger.” A year later, Nesi’s mug shot is prominently displayed on WPRI.com, as is his “Nesi’s Notes” column, which Howell calls a must-read for political/ business “influencers” in DMA No. 53. (Nesi, 26, has a smaller on-air role.) “He mentioned a lot of what I thought we needed to do with our site,” Howell says of the email. “Ted ended up filling a big hole that our site had a year ago.”

Their moves to TV haven’t been totally seamless. WJBK bosses love LeDuff’s keep-it-real demeanor but had to demand he not smoke cigarettes on-air. Nesi drew the ire of WPRI management for breaking a big story online—without giving them a heads-up to fully capitalize on the scoop. “I’ve had to earn their trust in my judgment,” says Nesi.

But both reporters’ managers say their hires have been a positive influence in the newsroom. Nesi recently detailed his role to a roomful of parent LIN’s general managers, news directors and digital chiefs in Atlanta. “In my opinion, he delivered the best presentation of the two days,” says Howell.

The presence of a savvy scribe at WJBK has inspired the Fox O&O station’s reporters to sharpen their writing skills. “Charlie’s pushed my reporters,” says Hahn, “to think creatively and be different.”

E-mail comments to mmalone@nbmedia.com and follow him on Twitter: @StationBiz

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