Friday, July 2, 2010

Scary News of What Might Have Been

Mylous Hairston and Lorey Schultz reporting for their own station, Channel 4, and for Channel 7?

John Borsa and Patrick Taney reporting for their own station, Channel 7, and Channel 4?

It could have happened if the owner of Channel 4, LIN TV, was serious about a proposal it made months ago during negotiations with AFTRA, which represents Channel 4's anchors and reporters.

That’s the word from Hairston, speaking as president of the local chapter of AFTRA (American Federation of Television and Radio Artists).

Hairston doesn’t know how serious LIN TV was about having Channel 4 share news personnel with Channel 7 or if the company was just trotting out a scary worst-case scenario. But today he confirmed a longstanding rumor that such a proposal was made in negotiations.

“How serious the company was I can’t say,” said Hairston. “It was something that was brought up at the bargaining table. Whether the company had any talks with Channel 7 I don’t know.”

The proposal in a market the size of Buffalo is a horrifying to broadcast veterans and it should be just as scary to viewers. Long-term, the proposal suggests that it might have eventually resulted in the elimination of Channel 7's news department.
"It certainly was a possibility when you consider how (Channel 7) has streamlined the news department," said Hairston.

“You would be losing a voice,” added Hairston. “It would be just a horrible idea in terms of hurting the quality and diversity of news coverage.”

He noted that something similar happened in Syracuse and is being considered in other markets in these tough economic times.

LIN and the local AFTRA never made a deal. The union contract expired almost two years ago. Several months ago, Hairston said the company implemented what it called “its last, best and final offer.”

That’s when substitute anchors lost an extra performance fee for anchoring and night differentials were eliminated, Hairston said. In addition, the company dropped the sportscaster and weathercaster classifications in the contract so anyone can do those jobs. That's why viewers have recently seen Hairston and Jericka Duncan do sportscasts on some weekend nights they were anchoring.

The subject of AFTRA’s inability to get a deal became news again because LIN is in negotiations with NABET, (National Association of Broadcast Employees and Technicians) the union that covers behind-the-scenes personnel such as photographers, producers, directors and technicians.

Hairston said that one of the big stumbling blocks in AFTRA’s negotiation with LIN was the company’s proposal that all on-air staffers learn how to shoot and edit stories. He explained that shooting and editing are under NABET jurisdiction.

“We couldn’t negotiate something we don’t have jurisdiction over,” claimed Hairston.

The company apparently hasn’t given up on the issue. This week, AFTRA members were asked to volunteer to learn how to shoot and edit. Hairston said the timing -- with NABET negotiations scheduled in mid-July – was suspicious.

Hairston took the issue to Facebook this week, undoubtedly confusing anyone who doesn’t work at Channel 4 or who isn’t in the TV news business. So I asked for an explanation.

“Our position is why should anyone volunteer to do something that is the exclusive jurisdiction of another union?” said Hairston. He said that AFTRA acknowledged the “changing tide of the industry” and tried to find a way to compromise with the company without hurting the quality of the news. In addition to shooting and editing its own stories, reporters are also being asked to produce work on the web.

“There’s only so much you can do before quality goes South,” said Hairston. “It would be reflected on the air and viewers would notice.”

Viewers already should notice that stations are putting reporters on the air only a few weeks after they graduate from college partly because, you guessed it, they have learned how to shoot and edit their own stories.

* On another note, Hairston confirmed his new schedule has him reporting two nights and one day a week. He had been working three days in addition to anchoring on weekends.

“Would I prefer dayside?” he asked. “Absolutely. It is what it is.”


  1. Channels 35 and 12 in Erie, PA show the same news on the weekends and share the same reports all week. I assume they are owned by the same entity?

  2. I think they would have eliminated 4's newsroom as Channel 7 is more streamlined and cheaper to run