Chit Happens

Not so long ago, upstart Channel 15 aired the most inventive, substantial TV news ever seen in Arizona. Now, in a quest for better ratings, it's trying to be like all the rest.

Others have joined Luke Funk in an exit stampede. It's left the station understaffed; new news director Jeff Klotzman says he plans to hire two new reporters. Both, he says, will do investigative work.

Not all employees are unhappy, of course. Mark Lodato, a reporter who's been around since the beginning of the newscast, says he's encouraged by the changes: "Personally, I have no problem with the chain of events at the station. Today, we're doing a lot more breaking news coverage, a lot more live reports, and personally I enjoy doing those kinds of stories, too. So I am just as happy today as I was two years ago. . . . Now I think we're more responsive to the viewers' needs," he says.

Another former employee, promotions man Galen Herod, says that he misses the old Channel 15, but he thinks employee unhappiness is overwrought. "I think people are unhappy because it's a human nature thing. . . . They had some pride of ownership of [the station's original format] and then . . . when the management took it back, it hurt people's feelings. And management tried to be gentle as possible about this, I feel. . . . You know how employees talk to each other and keep each other depressed.

"You can't blame the morale thing just on management. There's also people cashing in and feeling that the little group is fracturing," Herod says.

Kronley agrees, pointing out that the departure of most of "The Investigators" is a testament to the good work they did at Channel 15: Reporters like Bob Woodruff and Tony Kovaleski are snaring plum assignments in great markets.

"Money plays a big role in it," Jaie Avila responds. "You move on to a new market and you make a lot more money, but I think they would have held on to a lot of the core people just for love of working there." More of the experienced reporters would have stayed if the environment hadn't changed so drastically, he says.

"It's becoming a typical newsroom . . . everything has changed," says another reporter. "As a journalist, it's a big bummer to have to worry about getting the ratings up, not necessarily putting out a good product. They make no bones about it; they tell us this isn't a prison . . . if you want to leave, you can leave."

Last week, Virginia Silva, one of the original "Investigators," let KNXV know that she's doing just that. In two weeks, she leaves for Los Angeles.

Only Chris Heinbaugh--who, with his six Emmy awards, is one of the most respected local television reporters in the country--remains from the original team. Asked to discuss the state of Channel 15, Heinbaugh responded: "It's probably best if I just say nothing.

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