Changes geared to boost ratings, not just cut costs, manager of WFTS-Ch. 28 says

Rich Pegram knows what some people will assume.

Since taking over as general manager at WFTS-Ch. 28 in May, he's already presided over a host of jarring changes at Tampa's ABC affiliate: most recently, the departure last week of investigative reporter Matthew Schwartz, the coming departure of 5:30 p.m. anchor Walt Maciborski and the slimming down of anchor Brendan McLaughlin's half-hour public affairs show Flashpoint next month to a five-minute interview segment.

Before that, WFTS had seen news director Chris Jadick leave for a public relations job and longtime meteorologists Linda Gialanella and Wayne Shattuck moved to less-visible positions. But Pegram says this isn't a new manager cutting corners to save money; it's about boosting ratings while redeploying resources.

As evidence, the general manager points to the weekend morning shows WFTS will debut next month, adding five hours of newscast time. Maciborski's anchor position, Pegram said, will shift to the weekend, where the new show will offer news, traffic and weather reports delivered by a full complement of anchors.

"We need to improve our position in the ratings," said Pegram, who declined to reveal many details about the new shows — including a debut date — for competitive reasons. "So there are changes that have been made and that will be made."

Maciborski, 41, calls himself "a casualty of the economy, timing and ambition," let go at a time when TV stations are slimming the number of anchors in early evening and a window opened up in his contract.

Schwartz, 55, was less philosophical, saying Pegram "never granted me a sit-down meeting until just before Thanksgiving, when I was told my contract was terminated."

The reporter, whose stories included the first interview with the family of wrestler Terry "Hulk Hogan" Bollea after his son was involved in a high-speed car wreck, said he originally thought they were meeting to discuss the general manager's news philosophy. (Pegram disputed Schwartz's account, and says the station plans to hire a new investigative reporter.)

McLaughlin's Flashpoint will morph into a five-minute segment aired at the end of the new Sunday news show, likely scheduled as a bridge to ABC's politics show This Week. And while the change means losing his half-hour program, McLaughlin agreed with the move, saying Flashpoint had taken too much effort to produce each week.

"I actually went in and asked if there was a way to sunset the show, and Rich came up with this idea," said the anchor. "I thought it was brilliant."

At a time when so many news outlets are cutting staffs, Pegram insists that WFTS is trying to marshal its resources to better compete for viewers, even as some industry observers wonder how long the area can support five TV outlets with fully staffed news departments.

"If there are going to be fewer news voices in this market, (WFTS owner) Scripps intends to be here," said the general manager. "This mission is not to stay the course. The mission is to do better."

Changes geared to boost ratings, not just cut costs, manager of WFTS-Ch. 28 says 01/06/09 [Last modified: Sunday, January 11, 2009 7:58pm]

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