While awards may not be as important as ratings or revenue, the major ones are certainly great for station bragging rights and validation that the newsroom’s considerable efforts are noticed. With the hardware Mikel Schaefer and his WVUE New Orleans news crew have been hauling home, Fox 8 has enough bragging rights—and validation—to last a few decades.
WVUE bagged a pair of national Edward R. Murrow awards this year, for best news documentary and overall excellence. The station last January also got a prestigious duPont-Columbia for a pair of investigative series (KLAS Las Vegas and WXYZ Detroit were the only other commercial stations to win), Station of the Year from the Louisiana Association of Broadcasters, and enough regional baubles to fill up a showcase.
Not bad for a station that was an also-ran when Schaefer joined five years ago. “We bust our you-know-what’s here,” the WVUE news director says. “But I try to make it fun.”
Key to Schaefer remaking the news operation was importing the crush-the-competition spirit he absorbed during 24½ years across the street at WWL. He also brought over a batch of former colleagues, including ace investigative reporter Lee Zurik.
WVUE has forced itself into the local TV news discussion. Schaefer has boosted its news output from 5 to 8½ hours a day while adding news briefs on the station’s Bounce TV channel earlier this year. WVUE has a relentless investigative approach that has resulted in convictions and changes in legislation. It’s not uncommon to give a whopping 8-10 minutes to a worthy story.
Validation of WVUE’s efforts is a partnership with The Times-Picayune, which included a high-enterprise series on the intersection of money and politics, “Louisiana Purchased,” that ran on-air, in print and online throughout November. “It was interesting to be in the room with real smart journalists,” Schaefer says, “and see what we could come up with as a team.”
Being a New Orleans native helps Schaefer know what’s truly relevant in DMA No. 51. “We reflect what the city is—the good and the bad,” he says.
WVUE recently entered into a services arrangement with Raycom that will only strengthen the station, owned by Louisiana Media Co. Schaefer has reunited with Sandy Breland, former WWL news director and, as of last week, general manager at WVUE. It goes from a stand-alone station to part of Raycom’s vast southeastern cluster, while Raycom gets a savvy news operation in the Big Easy.
Breland cites Schaefer’s work ethic, mentioning how he covered Katrina, dealt with the devastation of his home and wrote and published a book, Lost in Katrina, on the storm’s effect on his hometown in the aftermath of the hurricane. “He’s so passionate about local journalism and is a student of whatever he takes on,” Breland says. “Mike is always working to improve his game.”
Schaefer is heading back to New York for yet another awards ceremony—another duPont- Columbia award for WVUE’s investigation into lavish spending of taxpayer dough by a local coroner. To Schaefer, the awards are a by-product of doing right by New Orleans. “We try to do a lot of things that are important to the community,” he says. “We hold people accountable.”