Four years ago, I helped negotiate a deal between WSTM-TV and the workers representing NABET/CWA Local 211. At the time, the company had just been purchased by Barrington Broadcasting, a company based out of a suburb of Chicago.
I didn’t feel comfortable about the new purchase by Barrington. We were a solid number two in the Syracuse, NY market and we were making inroads toward giving the market leader, WSYR a serious run for their money.
A week after the contract was ratified, the company announced layoffs would commence. In all, 25 people, mostly in operations, some in the news department, lost their jobs. I also saw how the news content was being repeated over and over again. Stories would be recycled from the 5pm news to the 6pm show and then to the 10pm and eventually, the 11pm.
I felt sucker punched. It felt the company was only interested in keeping their overhead down and their profits up. They didn’t care about investing in the station, except to maintain their current business model. I didn’t like the environment I was in. I also felt like I was being pulled on both sides, with the company making it hard to work in the current environment, and the workers who didn’t seem to appreciate the effort I made as Chief Steward.
With the death of my father-in-law the year before and my wife wanting to move back to Canada, I felt the time was right for a change. Before I left the TV station, I made a prediction that Barringtonwas over its head financially, and that eventually, it would lead to them having to be sold to a higher bidder.
Last week, my prediction became reality, as Sinclair and Nexstar are reportedly in the running for the purchase of Barrington’sbroadcast group. Sinclair currently owns Fox affiliate WSYT and My Network affiliate WNYS in the Syracusemarket. Ironically, both stations are just down the street from WSTM. Nexstar announced this summer it had purchased WSYR and other TV stations from Newport Television. That deal has not been finalized as of this blog entry.
In any event, any deal will require FCC approval, since WSTM has a shared services agreement with Granite Broadcasting over the operation of CBS affiliate WTVH. The deal would also create not only a triopoly, but a quadopoly, considering Barringtonalso runs CW affiliate WSTQ-LP.
If this isn’t a reason for government intervention on these purchases, then I’m not sure what’s going to happen. The local economy doesn’t benefit when outside entities take over these TV stations. I’ve seen many of my work colleagues lose their jobs, in particular, those at WTVH, because of “company decisions”.
But of course, TV station purchases aren’t a sexy topic. No one gets attention about a TV station being taken over. Unless the person is you, you’re more than likely to turn the page, or in this case, turn the channel.