Breaking Up A Great News Team

Rick Hamada
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Wednesday - August 01, 2007

Like many in Hawaii, I have a soft spot for KHON Channel 2.

First, my beautiful wife, Bernadette Baraquio, served as a news producer, reporter and anchor from 1997 to 2003. During that time, I had the pleasure of knowing so many of the dedicated professionals who made the daily newscasts consistently No. 1 in the market.

I am a Joe Moore fan. I always have been. There is a wonderful humanity to Joe that translates on the air and defies the definition of a traditional news anchor.

I remember speaking to Joe before the release of his film Moonglow. The debut was around the same time his son Bryce was born. The mention of his son brought great emotion and tears to Joe’s eyes. His passion for his work is superseded only by his love for his family, and I have total admiration and respect for any parent who has such defined priorities. Perhaps this is an explanation for his enduring popularity in such a fickle profession.

I don’t claim to understand all the machinations of the television business, but there are parallels, which are absolute.

Let’s cut to the chase.

The television industry is a business. Millions of dollars are in play with stations, even in a

market like Honolulu. There is a formula for success in broadcasting expressed as ratings and revenue. It is virtually impossible to have the latter without the former. The local news and local programming is the bread and butter of an affiliate station. Typically, the local newscasts will drive ratings and garner revenues. It would seem that if you have a superb local news product, your station would benefit in general.

The recent announcement by Montecito Broadcast Group that it is selling KHON to a Los Angeles media company was interesting, but not surprising. It was apparent that Montecito was employing the time-honored corporate strategy of acquisition, cost reduction and profit-taking.

It appears this was Montecito’s intent all along, and its strategy has worked. However, in order to achieve this objective, there is a string of shattered lives, literally and professionally, that Montecito is responsible for because of its actions.

Now, let me say this. There is nothing illegal about what Montecito did. Some would argue there is nothing immoral. I acknowledge that as long as you work for someone else, you are subject to the whim and fancy of the employer (as long as they abide by the law).

It seems to me the new owner, New Vision Television Group, is getting damaged goods. What propelled KHON to the top and sustained its dominance is the incredible staff, both on camera and off, who connected with their audience for generations.

The cost-cutting to make the numbers look good to a prospective buyer fails to quantify the value of those shed from the KHON rolls. It is impossible to put a dollar value on morale, but if one could, the new owner has about a buck and a half worth.

Montecito’s arrival brought the firing of about a third of the KHON staff.

Consequently, eight managers resigned in protest. These executives possessed great institutional knowledge, expertise and, more importantly, years of cultivated relationships which are essential to doing business in our town. The new owners will not have these resources.

How any broadcast company would allow two of their greatest assets to depart is beyond me. It is like seeing the dynastic Chicago Bulls let Scottie Pippen and Tony Kukoc go to another team midseason.

The fact that Leslie Wilcox and Tina Shelton are no longer part of the Channel 2 News team is obscene. Whatever the condition that precipitated their exit may be, it was a clear signal that professional quality was less important than a budget line on a financial statement.

Sure, the loss of their salaries and benefits may have sweetened the deal for Montecito, but the new owners will be without two individuals who contributed to the success of Channel 2 News.

Combine the loss of Leslie and Tina with the departure of talented executive producers, line producers, camera operators, directors, board operators, editors, sales staff and managers - I am not sure the new owners truly comprehend what they are inheriting.

I wish the team at KHON the very best. Those who remain are true professionals left standing after the storm. It is incumbent upon them to uphold the traditions and success of KHON and the venerable Channel 2 News. In light of increased competition, the incursion of broadband technology and the 24-hour cable news cycle, every local station has to be on the top of its game.

It will be interesting to see if the new owners of KHON will come to love Hawaii and stay, or just visit and leave like so many others before.

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