A newsroom revolt may be brewing at WKRN-Channel 2, where news director Vicki Montet is leading a purge of longtime staff members and rankling her underlings with a cold, if somewhat comical, management style.
Late last month, Montet canned weekend anchor Nancy Hauskins after more than five years with Channel 2. Weekend anchors come and go these days, and shifting personnel behind the desk is almost a gut call. But the way in which Montet yanked Hauskins illustrates the broader problems she has with her staff. On a Friday, Montet called the anchor into a dimly lit conference room to tell her the bad news. Hauskins says that Montet told her that she was in a hurry, and then let her in on a separate, but more relevant, matter: the station was eliminating Hauskins' position. Incredulous, Hauskins replied, "You're eliminating the weekend anchor position?"
Montet said that they were eliminating the part-time positionand that a full-time staffer would replace Hauskins. Eighteen months ago, shortly after the birth of her son, Hauskins gave up a full-time position as a reporter for Channel 2 to anchor on weekends. That was before Montet arrived.
Hauskins, who was hesitant to talk to Desperately about her employer, says she was never called down by Channel 2 and wasn't told why she was fired. "I have a lot of pieces in this big puzzle, and I'm trying to make them all fit" was Montet's explanation, Hauskins recalls. Then Montet said she had to rush to catch a plane, and that was it. Before she left, Montet asked Hauskins to finish out the weekend. (Inexplicably, Hauskins did.)
If Montet had only dismissed a weekend anchor, nobody would be taking up arms. The television business is, by its very nature, arbitrary and superficial, and everybody understands that. But under Montet's watch, several other talented reporters and staffers have left the building, and every time that happens, there are no shortage of sources contacting Desperately in frustration. Veteran reporter Chris Bundgaard, the best newsman at the station, cleaned out his desk last weekend. He'll now be freelancing for Channel 2. Sources say he'd like to look for work elsewhere, but can't because of his non-compete contract. (Only in television can you fire people, then keep them from making a living elsewhere.) In May, Montet dismissed weekend assignment editor Charlie Scott, who had worked at Channel 2 for nearly two generations. Montet, meanwhile, didn't return a call for comment.
In addition to firing well-liked, experienced journalists like Hauskins, Montet has other odd quirks. A different source told Desperately that the news director recently cut the station's already modest $5 out-of-town meal allowance. Previously, when Channel 2 staffers were covering a story in a surrounding county, they could grab a burger at Hardee's and have Channel 2 pick up the tab. Meanwhile, sources say that Montet just had brand new carpeting installed in her office. Now, some Channel 2 staffers are considering taking their complaints to Channel 2's corporate parent, Young Broadcasting. Nobody seems particularly happy at the station.
"The atmosphere at Channel 2 has changed a great deal over the last six months," says Hauskins, a 1983 Hillsboro High School graduate. "I would not be stretching the truth to say that there are a lot of unhappy peopleamong what I consider a tremendous and respectable group of reporters and photographers."
Television news directors don't have to be loved, but they do have to deliver. During the July television book, however, Channel 2's ratings were significantly down for nearly every newscast from the prior yearbefore Montet arrived at the station's Murfreesboro Road headquarters. Change for the sake of change doesn't work.
While Al Gore might think he's a populist for living in Nashville, a current New Yorker profile unintentionally illustrates just how clueless he is about the city where he lives and one he represented in the U.S. Senate. In an anecdote about Al and Tipper driving in their Cadillac to a Norah Jones concert at the Grand Ole Opry House, we learn that the onetime second couple needed directions to the concert hall from their Belle Meade residence.
"Gore drove; Tipper, with directions on her lap, showed the way," read the piece, recounting their experience as if they were searching for the lost Arc of the Covenant.
Obviously, The New Yorker didn't grasp the significance of this anecdote. Gore lost Tennessee mainly because the state is more conservative than he is. But it certainly didn't help his statewide campaign that even his supporters felt like he had lost touch here. The spectacle of the two Gores ambling in their Cadillac like a pair of European touristsnot knowing how the hell to get to one of Nashville's most famous placessays it all....
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