In the season of good tidings and joy, there were equal amounts of shock and dimay Thursday at KCAL when the ax fell yet again, this time bouncing news reporters Bill Gephardt, Barbara Matt and Dennis Farrier, chief sports anchor Gary Cruz and anchorman David Jackson.
Except perhaps for Jackson-who has had an inkling for months that his contract wasn’t going to be renewed after expiring at year’s end-the other moves were neither expected nor, according to some station insiders, necessary.
It was in fact only on Nov. 21 that Deborah McDermott, executive VP for the Nashville-based Young Broadcasting station group that took control of KCAL from Disney on Nov. 22, told a small group of reporters that once the cuts were complete in November, that would be the end of it.
“People won’t have to look over their shoulder and worry that six months from now another cut is coming,” McDermott said at the time.
Well, it didn’t take six months. It didn’t even take six weeks. More like three.
Reached Friday at Young’s offices in Nashville, McDermott said that it was never her intention to deceive anyone.
“As we got in and actually started in on the staffing process and combining some departments, it became necessary to make some decisions that unfortunately impacted some of our people,” McDermott said. “A few of them simply had to go.”
The next cutbacks will involve station union employees who work in the KCAL control and videotape operations centers. Many have reportedly been offered a year’s salary buyout and have been pondering it over the past several weeks.
McDermott assured, however, that there finally will be no more changes for the forseeable future.
“That’s it, we’re all done-expect for some of the union people,” McDermott said.
Yet one news department source disputes McDermott’s sincerity, noting that, for one, Young executives are working feverishly to figure out a way to both keep star anchor Pat Harvey and avoid paying off all of her contract (earning her a reported $850,000-$900,000 annually) that has about 2 1/2 years yet to run.
“This is only the first wave of changes, I can assure you,” the source said “These were only the economic changes. Wait until you see the performances changes. Trust me, they’re coming.”
KCAL, which at one time operated with about 370 employees, was down to 243 by late November and is closer to about 230 now, with more than half of those (about 130) in news.