Blue returns to Toledo as WNWO News DirectorWritten by Sarah Ottney | Managing Editor | firstname.lastname@example.org
It’s been a busy week for new WNWO News Director Jim Blue.
The 60-year-old veteran newsman, who was an evening news anchor at the station from 2002-08, anchored his final 10 p.m. newscast at WFFT in Fort Wayne, Ind., on Jan. 18, moved back to Toledo that weekend and started work at WNWO on Jan. 21.
A day and a half into his new job, Blue said he has not only been re-acclimating to the Toledo newsroom he left four years ago, but also meeting staff, interviewing candidates for open positions and brainstorming ways to boost the station’s viewership. On Jan. 23, he debuted as co-anchor with Angi Gonzalez on the 6 p.m. weekday news.
“It’s just been very busy,” Blue said. “I knew we had a lot to do.”
On Jan. 22, Blue recounted how he had walked out of the restroom earlier that day and caught himself heading toward his old desk.
“It was like I had never left,” Blue said.
Blue left Toledo after WNWO didn’t renew his contract in 2008, but he said he holds no ill will toward the station.
“There’s no point to that,” Blue said. “At that time, all of broadcasting was in quite a recession and this station was no exception. Although I can’t speak for the management, I’m quite sure it was a cost-cutting move. It was just a very, very difficult financial time for all broadcasting stations and in a lot of ways stations were cutting off limbs in order to save the patient.
“It didn’t come as a surprise, although I would have preferred that it had not happened,” Blue added. “We all had to make difficult choices.”
Blue soon landed a job as news director and 10 p.m. news anchor at WFFT, but said moving to Fort Wayne while his wife, Kay, an English professor at Owens Community College, stayed behind in Toledo was hard. He commuted home on weekends.
“A lot of folks sacrificed (during the recession) and so did Kay and I, but it allowed both of us to continue in our respective careers and a two-hour commute is, while not a pleasant price to pay, certainly less difficult than what some other folks were forced to do,” Blue said. “Now that things are looking quite a lot better for Toledo and the economy in general, this is just a really great time to be back here.”
Planning to move
Blue said he had been planning to move back to Toledo even before he heard about the opening at WNWO.
“After four years of really very satisfying and enjoyable professional work there in Fort Wayne, it was still taxing personally to be separated from Kay for the majority of the week,” Blue said. “I realized I was going to have to make a decision to come back and I was fully intending to make that move not knowing what kind of job might await me here, if anything. And then, just serendipitously, this position opened up.
“I feel very, very grateful and humble about being able to continue doing this business in the community where I want to live,” Blue said. “We’ve maintained our home here. Our kids grew to adulthood here. Most of our friends are here or in the region. So we have really solid roots in this community. It’s home and it feels very much like home.”
WNWO President and CEO Chris Topf, who has been with the station since 2011, called Blue a “pivotal addition” to the news team.
“In Jim you’re getting an on-air talent that people want to watch and you’re also getting someone who knows how to develop and groom a news organization,” Topf said. “He was very successful with that in Fort Wayne and I expect that with the group we’ve put together here, Jim will be instrumental in making them better journalists and making us a better news organization.
“Jim being paired with Angi at 6 o’clock is going to be a great duo,” Topf said. “We’ve spent a lot of time over the past year and a half trying to get the right people in place at this station. We’ve got a lot of very solid pieces in place and we want to build on that. I think Jim’s going to help bring together all those pieces we’ve brought together and make them one big fighting force.”
WNWO, Toledo’s NBC affiliate, consistently draws the fewest viewers among the city’s major news outlets, according to data gathered by the Nielsen Media Research Co.
According to the most recent numbers, released in November, WNWO drew an average of 2,000 viewers to its 5 a.m. newscast compared to 13,500 for WTVG and 8,000 for WTOL. WTVG also has the most viewers at 6 a.m. with 30,000. WTOL was next with 21,000, while not enough people watched WNWO to measure.
WNWO’s evening newscasts also lagged behind WTOL and WTVG, drawing an average of 5,000 at 6 p.m. and 4,000 at 11 p.m., compared to WTOL’s 68,000 at 6 p.m. and 48,000 at 11 p.m. and WTVG’s 64,000 at 6 p.m. and 42,000 at 11 p.m.
Staff turnover likely plays a role in WNWO’s lower ratings, Topf said.
“There has been so much change at this station,” Topf said. “It’s gone through so many different ownerships and each time there’s been a completely different philosophy and a full change of personnel to go along with it, so it becomes tough for people to come to know and love the people you’ve got on air and want to watch them on a regular basis.
“Midsize markets like Toledo are very tough markets to keep good talent. [WTOL and WTVG] are lucky to have people like Chrys [Peterson] and Diane [Larson] and Lee [Conklin], who have made Toledo a home for themselves. A lot of times people will quickly move up in market size and you become the station that’s a stepping stone to other things. I’d love to have somebody who is going to be here for a long time.”
Both Blue and Topf feel the Nielsen rating system, based on a small sample of regional viewers self-reporting viewing habits in hand-written diaries, is antiquated.
“We utilize another rating service called Rentrak and we have seen that our audience has grown a little bit over the past year, year and a half,” Topf said. “It’s not tremendous growth, but it is growth nonetheless. We think that having somebody with Jim’s experience and expertise can only help us grow and probably at a quicker rate than we have been.”
Blue said ratings are important, but he doesn’t like to dwell on them.
“If expectation is simply based on the past, you’re never going to go anywhere,” Blue said. “You’ve got to be willing to defy expectations. The past is not necessarily a prologue when it comes to the ratings and we proved that in Fort Wayne.”
‘A great leader’
Blue helped build and launch the news operation at WFFT, formerly a FOX affiliate and now an independent station.
“We started it up from scratch in seven weeks,” Blue said. “It was fascinating. It was very challenging. It was a lot of fun. It was quite an opportunity to start something up and create something really out of nothing. Hire a staff, build a set, have all the equipment installed. It was very gratifying.”
The show, which debuted in 2009 as a 35-minute weeknight show, is now an hour-long nightly newscast and has risen to the No. 2 slot for late local news in the Fort Wayne market, Blue said.
WNWO Regional News Director Kathy Reynolds said Blue is “a great leader.”
“He’s got sharp news judgment, great instincts and a strong moral compass,” Reynolds said in a news release. “On top of that, he knows this market and as an anchor can put stories in context and explain their impact on our viewers.”
Blue said balancing duties as news director and anchor is not difficult.
“I’m glad to see there seems to be a trend to going back to somebody with overall responsibility for the news product also appearing as the face of the news product,” Blue said. “There’s a public perception that if people see someone on the air they expect that person has a good deal to do with the creation of that product, that they aren’t simply a talking head, and in our case it’s truly a reality. I think people can respect the integrity of that.”
Blue said he hopes to provide a fresh, independent voice.
“A lot of it is simply the basics,” Blue said. “Do good journalism, report accurately and fairly and tell the stories well. People relate to narratives. Whether they are doing news, weather or sports, I want us to be good storytellers, meaning tell people’s stories well and accurately and fairly.”
Blue will also continue to make social media a focus.
“Providing news over multiple platforms is a very important part of what we do,” Blue said. “It’s the way people get their information these days. They use what’s most convenient for them and they will use multiple platforms during the day.”
Blue was an engineering major at the University of Illinois, but changed his major to communications after spending a summer working for WBBM Newsradio in Chicago.
“It exposed me to a lot of very interesting things and places,” Blue said. “We covered the first Mayor [Richard J.] Daley, the Black Panther Party. We covered a lot of things in Chicago that were fascinating of that era. It was an exciting time to be in Chicago and an exciting time to cover news in Chicago.”
Having worked in television since 1974, Blue said he can use his decades of experience to mentor younger journalists and draw more viewers to WNWO.
“I can provide coaching and feedback in terms of creating, writing, shooting and editing their stories. I also can provide some context for what news is important because I’ve experienced this market over a decade and I have a fairly good sense of what Toledoans consider important,” Blue said. “I feel confident we can shape this into a very, very valuable and worthwhile experience for the people who watch us.”