Friday, January 6, 2012

What Are They Thinking?

Shawn Rutherford Gone From KXAN TV

“Shawn Rutherford is a team member of the 2010 Winner for Best Morning Newscast as voted by the Texas Associated Press Broadcasters”—The headline on his KXAN-TV page.

Further, Shawn Rutherford’s team tied for #1 for the 6 a.m. hour during the important November Nielsen sweeps.

Now, Shawn Rutherford is gone from KXAN-TV.

In a newsroom meeting Friday (January 6, 2012), management informed the staff that Rutherford was no longer with the TV station because of “business reasons.”

Business reasons: That could mean a lot of things. Rutherford’s contract was up for renewal at the station in a couple of months. So, “business reasons” could mean that Rutherford and the station could not agree on a new contract, if one was offered.

Business reasons could also be derived from research. KXAN retains Magid Consultants. If Rutherford didn’t score high enough in their research perhaps that is the reason he is gone. In years past Magid research was considered, but since “they ain’t from around here,” decision were not always made on what they said. After all, Rutherford had been on the air in Austin for close to 15 years. Austin is not a cookie-cutter market conforming to research norms.

Business reasons could mean that Rutherford, knowing his contract was ending, was ready to leave.

Shawn joined the KXAN News First Warning Weather Team in November, 1998 as weekend weather, but soon moved up to the morning broadcast.

Rutherford is also an innovator. He created for KXAN the one-of-a-kind, real-time lightning visual called “Live Strike”. Live Strike went away a few years ago because of conflicts with completion technology.

Even so, Rutherford is gone for business reasons.

His departure is the fourth prominent departure from KXAN News/Weather in recent months. Expert investigative reporter Nancy Wilson left of her own volition. Weekend morning anchor Catenya McHenry’s departure was sudden. Management offered to explain why to inquiring staff members one-on-one today. City reporter Reagan Hackleman recently decided to depart after taking time to breathe on vacation.

Now, Rutherford is gone. The morning show is in disarray. Traffic reporter, Debra Wynn, the wife of news director Michael Fabac, is off the air. Co-anchor Chris Willis is now their chief investigative reporter. Willis is an excellent investigative reporter, but is this his choosing? Co-anchor Sally Hernandez is back from maternity leave. She’s the stabilizer for now.

So, the station is down a permanent weekend anchor, weekend meteorologist, city hall reporter, and weekday morning reporter.

Other changes may be in the works. Why? Search me.

The station took back a piece of #1 in the mornings. They are #1 at 5 and 6 p.m. going into the February sweeps. The old saw, “If it ain’t broke, why fix it” comes to mind. Then, I’m reminded that KXAN-TV News has a long tradition of shooting itself in the foot.

I have to wonder if either the bean-counters or the consultants are in control. Whatever is the case, it is a worst-case scenario for KXAN.

Of course, all of these are “personnel matters”, and there could be no comment, but one has to wonder: What are they thinking?

© Jim McNabb, 2012