Posted by Someone You Shouldn't Know on July 19, 2009 at 17:07:05:
In Reply to: Phil Rosenthal on Walter Cronkite & Harry Porterfield posted by chicagomedia.org on July 19, 2009 at 17:06:18:
Phil Rosenthal's media column from the Sunday Chicago Tribune that came out Saturday (and obviously written before Mr. Cronkite's passing):
Someone you already know is out of a job at WLS-Ch. 7
Harry Porterfield let go in cost-cutting move after 24 years at station
July 19, 2009
In a business where the ratings that determine who succeeds and who fails are measured in 15-minute intervals, TV newsman Harry Porterfield has lasted more than 1.5 million quarter-hours in Chicago, or 45 years for those of us allowed to mark our survival day to day, month to month.
Few people anywhere still working in TV can say they have done so well for so long. And after July 30, there may be one fewer, as Porterfield is leaving WLS-Ch. 7, which opted to not renew his contract after 24 years, citing the same revenue squeeze and budget pressures that have reduced so much in media of late to dust.
"Harry has been a legend and a pioneer in Chicago broadcasting," Emily Barr, Channel 7's president and general manager, said in an interview. "These are very difficult times, and every decision we make is very challenging and, frankly, anguished. I adore Harry. He's a treasure. ... But because of the economy, we have to be looking at everything. In the last few months, we have looked at other situations and other contracts. Some get renewed. Some don't."
Porterfield, 81, may well decide not to retire, leaving his fate to a marketplace that will quickly assay his work and following and the goodwill they produce. At WLS, he already had a reduced work schedule, filing his twice-weekly human-interest "Someone You Should Know" reports in addition to hosting occasional "People, Places & Things You Should Know" specials.
Neither he nor his agent were available for comment Friday as word of his imminent exit came in a memo to fellow employees from Jennifer Graves, the station's vice president and news director.
But it may be instructive to recall it was the desire to conduct his career on his own terms that brought him to WLS after 21 years at WBBM-Ch. 2, where he launched the DuPont-Columbia Journalism Award-winning "Someone You Should Know" series in 1977. Channel 2 demoted him to reporter from 6 p.m. weeknight co-anchor to accommodate the return of Bill Kurtis from a run with CBS News in New York, so he left soon after.
At least as costly as Porterfield's flight, WBBM's decision to pull him off the anchor desk also fueled a boycott of the station led by Rev. Jesse Jackson, who sought to shine a spotlight a need for more minority hiring both on-camera and in management. CBS subsequently made Johnathan Rodgers the station's first African-American general manager and hired Lester Holt as anchor.
But Channel 2's ratings continued the decline that began before Porterfield was bumped for Kurtis, and WLS, which already was beneficiary of Oprah Winfrey's arrival in 1984, saw its numbers surged with Porterfield's arrival. WLS research at the time indicated that non-white viewers had abandoned WBBM in significant numbers.
Channel 7 continues to enjoy its No. 1 status more than two decades later, and Channel 2 is still struggling to regain its long-ago success.
"I do expect ... people out of love for Harry and admiration for his work will say, 'Why couldn't you figure out a way to keep him?' And we tried every which way," Barr said. "But we are up against something here that is quite immovable."
In recent months, between voluntary buyouts and other reductions, WLS has reduced its workforce of 270 or so by about 6 percent, Barr estimated. That's on the low end of the scale of reductions media outlets have undertaken in response to the tough economy and splintering of audience and ad revenue.
Joe Trimarco, 64, WLS' head of engineering operations, was set to retire Friday after 43 years at the station, and his job will not be filled. No one was hired when Jeff Blanzy, a weekend sportscaster at Channel 7 for 11 years, left last month after his contract was not renewed. When veteran reporter Charles Thomas moved from general assignment to succeed retired Andy Shaw as political correspondent in January, Thomas' old position also was left unfilled.
Graves, in her memo, called Porterfield "a role model" who worked "with a grace and humility unmatched by his peers."
Barr said she considered it an honor to work with him. "But this is the toughest decision because we're looking at every single expense," she said.
Time is money, especially in TV, and both apparently ran out for Porterfield at WLS.
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