Seeking to bolster websites, TV stations hire away newspaper journalists
When Bob Kravitz made the move to local television in August, he insisted on picking out his own makeup. His new job meant that his face, which was usually confined to a mugshot with his sports column for The Indianapolis Star, would be exposed to the glare of television. So, he made his way to the makeup counter at an area mall and asked for help.
He was there for 40 minutes and spent $70 on foundation. The next day, one of Kravitz’ first columns for the station was posted on its website. The headline read: “A face for newspapers? Bob Kravitz starts his WTHR journey.”
Although Kravitz lambasted his looks in the column, WTHR’s leadership is betting his face will attract a following — the same one that was reading his columns in The Indianapolis Star weeks ago.
“We joke whether you love him or you hate him, you’re still going to read him,” said Kathy Hostetter, the station's news director.
WTHR isn’t alone in that respect. Local television stations have lured several journalists away from regional dailies to contribute to their websites in recent years. And as revenue for print ads continues to decline, local television, with its comparatively stable advertising base, is looking increasingly attractive.
"It’s still relatively rare," said Chip Mahaney, senior director of local operations television for Scripps Digital. "But it is happening. As local media outlets, including broadcasters, invest more in their digital products, they’re seeking skills that experienced newspaper reporters often possess, namely long-form writing and in-depth beat reporting."
WDRB in Louisville, Kentucky has hired six journalists from print publications to contribute to its website during the last two years, said Barry Fulmer, the station's news director. WRAL in Raleigh, North Carolina made at least three hires from newspapers: Mark Binker, formerly a state government reporter for the Greensboro (North Carolina) News and Record, Caulton Tudor, a longtime Raleigh (North Carolina) News and Observer columnist and Kelly Hinchcliffe, who was an education reporter at the Durham (North Carolina) Herald-Sun.
These stations are in the minority. Despite the growing audience for Web content, TV stations have been slow to bring aboard online-only journalists, numbers show. A recent survey of 1,659 stations conducted by Bob Papper of Hofstra University ranked online journalists as the fifth most common new hire, behind producers, reporters and anchors. Web journalists are also an uncommon replacement hire, ranked 10th behind assignment editors and executive producers.
But WTHR was willing to buck the trend. Kravitz said the station offered him a bump in salary, a longer contract and improved insurance benefits. Still, he agonized over the decision.
“I’m really proud of the things we all did together as a staff throughout those 14 years," Kravitz said. "But it was time for a change.”
Kravitz left The Star during a period of reorganization undertaken by the paper's parent company, Gannett. The Indianapolis Newspaper Guild announced Aug. 12 The Star was planning to cut the newsroom by 15 percent. Similar changes are coming to other Gannett papers, including The (Tennessee) Tennessean, The Ashbury Park (New Jersey) Press, The Greenville (South Carolina) News, The Pensacola (Florida) News Journal and The Asbury Park (New Jersey) Press.
Kravitz said the uncertain future of print was on his list of reasons to move to television, but it wasn't at the top.
“On a list of 10 things, it was probably number eight," he said.
Indianapolis Star editor Jeff Taylor declined to comment on Kravitz' compensation. He said the paper's traffic has held steady since Kravitz left and that Gannett's reorganization will help drive digital growth at The Star.
“We are well-positioned to continue to vie for the audience out in our market, and we are going to be building on the efforts to grow our audience and our readership," Taylor said. "We aren’t going anywhere.”
While Kravitz was considering whether to join WTHR, he contacted Rick Bozich, who was hired away from the Louisville (Kentucky) Courier-Journal by WDRB in 2012 with fellow columnist Eric Crawford.
Crawford says the move to television has given him more time for writing. When he worked at the Courier-Journal, he and Bozich had to juggle shooting video with reporting and writing. Now the TV crew handles the video, allowing them to concentrate on his columns. And Kravitz says his days of running from the press box to the locker room to beat a print deadline are over — he can take an extra hour or more after the game to conduct interviews and write a more thorough column.
Crawford, who wrote his column for the Courier-Journal for seven years, "figured he’d do that job forever," — unless, of course, The New York Times came calling, he said. But TV has changed things.
“I haven’t given any thought to going back to print,” he said.