Page 2 of 2 Previous
Imagine dating someone for more than a decade, falling madly in love, convinced you'll be together forever and ever. And then, one night, it's over. No goodbye kiss, no phone call, not even a text message.
That's how lots of fans felt about how WCCO seemingly handled the dumping of popular meteorologist Paul Douglas, who was chilling on the East Coast when the bombshell dropped. On the surface, the station bosses appeared as cold and vicious as a murderer on "CSI."
But there's part of the story you didn't hear.
First of all, let me clear up a matter of semantics that may seem small, but it's important. In our story last week that broke the news, we stated that station management didn't return several calls. Not entirely accurate.
General manager Susan Adams Loyd did refuse interview requests, a strategy that may have been ordered by New York brass, since most of the bosses at the network-owned stations made themselves available after a nationwide purge of more than 100 newsroom employees.
But WCCO spokesperson Kiki Rosatti answered every time I rang. At most TV stations, spokespeople don't have management titles, but that's not the case at WCCO. In one of at least six chats with me that day, Rosatti made a point to publicly express the station's gratitude for Douglas' years of service -- a courtesy that was not made to anchor/reporter John Reger, who was dismissed minutes after a noon broadcast and told to be out of the building by the end of the workday.
The station had hoped for a more amicable parting with Douglas, one that wouldn't turn into a publicity nightmare. But Douglas decided not to play along.
"We absolutely wish this had played out differently," Rosatti said.
On March 31, when the weatherman was told he was being terminated, Loyd asked if he would stay on until the end of May, setting up a scenario that might lead to a more graceful exit. Douglas wanted to take a few days to think about it and by last Friday decided the long goodbye would be too much.
"Management was hopeful that I would stay on through the end of May," Douglas wrote in an e-mail. "But under the circumstances [having just been fired], I ultimately decided that this was not an attractive choice for me to make. Had I stayed at WCCO through the end of May book, there may have been some face-saving way for me to say goodbye, but in the end, I just couldn't bring myself to go back to work, after having just been abruptly terminated with no warning."
Douglas said that both KARE and KSTP offered him opportunities to say farewell on their airwaves, but he ultimately declined out of loyalty to his WCCO colleagues, he said.
Storm clouds around departure
I completely understand where Douglas is coming from. Under those circumstances, I might have done the very same thing. But what about loyalty to viewers?
Stations and their personalities work overtime to sell themselves as "good neighbors," folks just like you and me who are more than happy to sit in rocking chairs on your porch, sip lemonade and sing folk songs. They ask to come into your house every night and be a part of your extended family. Hey, we know you can get your news elsewhere, but don't you want to hang out with your palsy-walsies?
Sadly, hard reality and pride trump such a cozy picture.
Douglas, who made millions from creating private firms over the years, will be just fine. In fact, one could argue that WCCO made a rather heartfelt gesture. If it had to make huge cuts -- and the network had made it clear that it must -- then why not cut the one guy who can afford to be unemployed? The alternative: Cut four or five field reporters and start doing the broadcast from the Chipotle across the street.
That theory is probably not going to appease the Douglas fans who swear they'll never, ever watch WCCO again, even if Amelia Santaniello and Frank Vascellaro give birth to sextuplets on the air.
How massive that exodus will be has yet to be determined.
Ted Canova, the WCCO news director who brought Douglas to WCCO after his stints at KARE and in Chicago, thinks that newsroom employees and ink-stained columnists worry more about this stuff than the average viewer does.
"If nothing else, the viewer has shown a wonderful ability to move on from the subject of the day," said Canova, who's now chief communications and marketing officer for the Twin Cities chapter of the American Red Cross. "The public has more crucial issues than this."
Maybe so, but there's no doubt that everyone involved -- WCCO, Douglas and fans -- would have hoped for a sunnier ending. But as anyone who follows the weather knows, no amount of wishing can cancel a thunderstorm.
firstname.lastname@example.org • 612-673-7431