Wednesday, March 30, 2011

30 MAR 11: Back to You, Wayne

It appears our Blog Exclusive about the firing of Kurt Schmitz was the talk of the town Tuesday. For one thing, our blog "hit counter" had its busiest day for visitors since November 2008. The big topic then was Frank Lumpkin III, and an alleged victim's mother accused of shoplifting. I'm glad we've become a less crime-ridden city, so we can focus on other things.

Because of a tight Tuesday schedule, I only have time to offer a couple of e-mail reactions to the dismissal of Kurt Schmitz. The first comes from one of Schmitz's former colleagues at the WTVM anchor desk....

Hey Richard;

I was sorry to read about Kurt Schmitz's situation at WTVM. Unfortunately, I knew it was coming. Dee was forced out the door just as uncermoniously and I'm sure I would have been next if I hadn't chosen to retire early instead. I should have probably forced their hand. Dee got six month's pay and benefits. All I got was a BBQ picnic. They even forced me to sell back my Raycom stock at zero value. These people are ruthless!

I understand the ratings have declined since Dee and I left and they probably will sink further now that Kurt is no longer there, but I'm not sure WTVM cares. If you can produce a product cheaply enough, you don't need ratings to make a profit. The younger kids will work for less and are easily manipulated by management. No one talks about Journalistic ethics or credibility anymore. It's all about being famous. Dancing with the Stars or the Nightly News, it's all the same.

I worked a lot of years in a profession that I loved, but in the end, I was glad to be out of it. The days of Cronkite and Brinkley, i am sad to say, are no more.

Wayne Bennett

Dee Armstrong's departure in 2008 led to a lawsuit, which was settled outside federal court [17 Aug 10]. But I didn't know Wayne Bennett had to sell back Raycom Media stock. In fact, I didn't know you could buy Raycom Media stock -- unless you consider it's a branch of Retirement Systems of Alabama, and Bennett is paying Alabama income tax.

I don't have easy access to television rating reports, so I don't know if WTVM's numbers have dropped or not. But based on the online comments I saw Tuesday, some viewers plan to change stations because Kurt Schmitz is gone. Time will tell if it turns out to be a major cold front....

There's at least one place which still is concerned about journalism ethics. The Federal Communications Commission is cracking down on TV stations which show "video news releases" - news segments provided by businesses, which air without any on-air notice. Business leaders should act like President Obama, and face one news anchor at a time.

(By the way, "Dancing With the Stars" has become part of the evening news. WTVM seems to have a new in-depth report on the contest every week at 5:30 p.m.)

Wayne Bennett talked of retiring to Panama after leaving WTVM. But he lives in central Florida these days, because Panama didn't turn out to be the paradise he expected. That's too bad - because I don't think I ever formally wished him a "merry isthmus."

The Ledger-Enquirer caught up with us interviewed Kurt Schmitz Tuesday. Schmitz said he still loves weather, and has no plans to leave Columbus. Of course, he probably also had no plans to hire an attorney to work out a settlement on his new contract....

WTVM General Manager Lee Brantley told the newspaper's website he can't comment on what happened to Kurt Schmitz, because it's a "confidential personnel" matter. So you may have to settle for more editorials about the TV station's Facebook page.

Another reader was more surprised by the news about Kurt Schmitz:

"Sir" Richard:

I was stunned by the contents of your BLOG today! Thanks for giving us all an insight into what really goes on behind the camera.

The information you posted today just further confirms my contention that you are the only true source of news in our area. I certainly hope that my spate of E-mails; had no connection with your leaving WTVM, But if it did I'm sorry.

I should have known that I was putting pressure on the media workers - when one reporter disappeared from the scene, and others no longer followed my every move.

Today, I cannot get any attention at all, except from you. I'm certainly not guilty of causing Kurt Schmitz's problems but it underscores the careful line that folks in the media must walk to keep their jobs.

"Sir" Richard, I'm unable to give you any information about my problems with "Hurt'sboro for exactly the same reasons as those the reporter's and Bloggers face. But, when the lid comes off! You will be the first to know!

R.J. Schweiger

Let the record show Robert Schweiger's continuing comments on Hurtsboro did NOT lead to my departure from WTVM. In fact, a couple of his news tips wound up being "spoilers" -- taking scoops away from WRBL. In a town that small, secrets are much harder to keep.

There are several reasons why Kurt Schmitz is receiving so much attention while Robert Schweiger does not. Schmitz is a familiar face, and arguably the most trusted weather voice in the area. Schweiger wasn't even trusted enough to make the runoff of a three-way race for Russell County Commissioner.

(I'm a little surprised Schweiger didn't offer me the obvious follow-up story - and reveal all the imperfections of Hurtsboro's WTVM "Weather Watcher.")

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