Former Toledo anchor starts from scratch in Ft. WayneWritten by Evan Goodenow | | email@example.com
Ft. WAYNE, Ind. — “And they’re off!” WFFT anchor Jim Blue exclaimed introducing a story on ostrich racing on the fledgling FOX-55 television news station in Fort Wayne, Ind.
The ostrich segment on Aug. 10 was a kicker, the term newscasters use for an amusing story that ends their newscast.
While the 57-year-old Blue has a sense of humor, he takes journalism seriously and hopes his new station flies better than ostriches. The new gig began less than a year after Blue’s contract wasn’t renewed after six years at WNWO-TV NBC24 in Toledo.
The nonrenewal was disappointing for Blue, a former Toledo Free Press columnist, who has a home in Toledo and had no desire to leave.
“On the other hand, it opened up this opportunity here and this is the most challenging and exciting thing I’ve ever done,” said Blue, who, in addition to anchoring the station’s nightly 10 p.m. newscast, is also the news director. “To start up a newscast from absolute scratch, just the very beginnings and to be able to use some years of experience to do that, I’ve found to be very gratifying.”
Blue — whose career began in 1989 and includes stints in Columbia, S.C., and Dayton — said he loves getting out from behind the anchor desk and into the field. And in one case, into the water. Blue, an avid scuba diver, reported underwater for NBC24 for a 2007 story on the Anthony Wayne, a steamship that sank in Lake Erie in 1850.
Stories like that made Kevin Kistner, NBC24 senior producer, admire Blue’s drive. And Kistner relied on Blue’s experience.
“I always turned to him to help me in terms of knowing whether to put a story on the air,” Kistner recalled. “He was a good teacher, a good journalist and he has great journalistic instincts.”
But, despite his credentials, anchors like Blue are becoming extinct as newsrooms contract because of budget cuts. Well paid, veteran anchors in Los Angeles, Miami, New York and St. Louis all left their jobs this year. Last year, 1,200 employees lost their jobs, approximately
4.3 percent of the local TV industry, according to the 2009 Radio-Television News Directors Association/ Hofstra University annual survey.
Despite the industry decline because of the distractions of the Internet, corporate news monopolies and the recession, WFFT believes people in Fort Wayne will tune in.
While age and experience work against some veteran journalists as stations turn to younger and cheaper reporters, Blue’s veteran status made him attractive to a startup newscast relying on rookie reporters.
“He’s a fantastic journalist and that demeanor translates well for mentoring some of our young V.J.’s (video journalists),” said Bill Ritchhart, WFFT general manager. “He has a ton of leadership and that adds integrity to our staff.”
Initial reviews for the newscast, which debuted on April 6, are positive. Citing Nielsen ratings, Greater Fort Wayne Business Weekly reported Fox-55 recently won the 10 p.m. time slot versus Indiana’s News Center, Fort Wayne’s ABC affiliate which airs a 10 p.m. newscast for the CW Television Network.
Rich Reynolds of Fort Wayne Media Watch, a blog with an often acerbic take on local media, says initial feedback about Blue from blog contributors has been positive.
“Blue has credibility cachet because of his dignified demeanor,” Reynolds wrote in an e-mail.
“We have tremendously popular anchors in Northeast Indiana, so they made a wise choice in hiring a veteran,” said Jerry Giesler, Indiana’s News Center manager and president.
Facing well-established stations, Blue, who hired the station’s four reporters, said the newscast will try to be different. Reporters are asked to enterprise and avoid press releases and routine news conferences when possible. Accidents, crashes and crimes, staples of local TV news, will be shied away from unless they’re serious. Reporters describe Blue as hands on, but not a micromanager.
While the new job is time consuming, Blue says he tries to visit Toledo — where his wife Kay teaches writing at Owens Community College — every couple of weeks. Despite the demands and pressures, Blue said he has no plans to leave journalism anytime soon.
“I love the news business and getting out into the community and talking to people,” he said. “I’ve never really wanted to do anything else.
Rundgren ‘happy and successful’ in Texas
Karl Rundgren might have left FOX Toledo a year ago, but he took what he learned from Toledo’s fast-paced news scene with him to pick up the speed of his television station in Odessa, Tex., KMID.
After leaving his position as FOX’s anchor and managing editor for a news director position at Odessa’s ABC affiliate, he said he misses reporting on Toledo politics, but has obtained a level of happiness he and his wife, Jordan, couldn’t find anywhere else.
“When you’re in the media, there are two goals,” said Rundgren, a former Toledo Free Press columnist. “Make it to a giant network and be with your family. I accomplished one of those things; we never saw this as a step back. We looked at it as a success.”
Rundgren said he moved to Texas to be close to the numerous family members who live in the area.
KMID, known as “Big 2,” once dominated the television news market in Odessa but recent setbacks left the station in second place, so Rundgren said he is constantly experimenting with news content to compete with other stations.
“My challenge is to rebuild this station and bring it back to what it used to be; obviously, that’s no small task,” he said. “The thing about working for a station that’s not in the lead is you can try things and you can be a little more tenacious.”
He has used specific techniques he learned in Toledo to improve his Texas station. When he moved to Odessa, the newscast was slow-paced and focused on a single person behind the desk. He used what he knew about fast-paced newscasts from working in Toledo to speed up the news and energize the setting.
He said he even had the anchor desk ripped out to ramp up energy. Now, his reporters write brief scripts, packed full of information opposed to the longer, wordy forms of newscasts he saw at the station when he moved there, he added.
He also took the necessity for balanced news from the Toledo area as well, something that can be difficult in his town because most people share the same views.
“In Toledo, you have a very democratic area but the surrounding areas are conservative so being fair was not just an option, it was a necessity,” Rundgren said. “Out here in Texas this is a conservative area; the Democrats in west Texas tend to be more like Republicans. Because of that, there is a temptation to lose a little bit of that fairness to play to the crowd. But that’s the thing I took from Toledo — being fair is not an option, this is a necessity.”
Though he misses Toledo and has been “admiring the mayoral race from afar,” he said he plans to stay in Odessa with his wife and 4-year-old son Dane and continue his career with KMID.
His hottest topics on his station right now are the oil industry and the economy and health care reform, he said.
“To me, the most important thing is to listen; I’ve been amazed when I go through this industry how many people go in and do interviews and they’re waiting to hear that one magic thing they are looking for. If you listen, sometimes you get whole other ideas from interviews,” he said. “The other thing is to be fair. As long as you give people your fair shake, most people are appreciative.”
— Caitlin McGlade