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Ch.4 owner gives poor media lesson by denying Fairbanks interview

By Alan Pergament 

I had hoped to interview Channel 4 anchor Diana Fairbanks for my column this Sunday.

It was going to be a flattering goodbye piece about her work in more than two years at the CBS affiliate as she prepares to leave the area in a few weeks.

The interview isn't going to happen for a mind-blowing reason I'll explain a little later.

First, let's talk about her time here, where she has primarily anchored the 5:30 p.m. and 10 p.m.  newscasts and had a brief stint as the co-anchor of "Wake Up!"

Since her arrival, Fairbanks has received flattering reviews from critics, including this one. 

When she anchored her first newscast early in 2012, I reviewed her performance for my former independent blog, StillTalkin' TV.

"Fairbanks is very professional, a solid anchor with a strong voice and no-nonsense manner that perfectly suits Channel 4's format," I wrote after her debut.

"She smiles often, but didn't initially seem to be the warmest TV personality," I added. "However, everything I've heard and read about her days as anchor in Traverse City, Mich. suggests that viewers will warm up to her as the days and weeks go by."

And warm-up the area did.

"Channel 4 certainly has a lot riding on Fairbanks," I continued. "The station hasn't indicated it, but she would be the obvious choice to replace Jacquie Walker if Walker rides off into the TV sunset some time in the next decade or so."

That isn't going to happen now that Fairbanks has announced she is leaving Channel 4 to return to Traverse City with her husband and young daughter. A week ago, Channel 4 News Director Joe Schlaerth told the staff Fairbanks decided to leave because her husband got a great job back where they used to live.  

We'll have to take his word for it.

That’s because the public relations arm of LIN Media, which owns Channel 4, has refused my request to interview Fairbanks. I first made it last week after her departure was announced.

The idea that a media company refuses to allow one of its own news staffers to be interviewed for a flattering story is pretty absurd. After all, LIN stations routinely ask newsmakers for interviews about stories they are doing. Many of the stories aren't flattering. They are tough.

If I were a news subject in a non-government job and Channel 4 wanted to interview me now, I'd strongly consider just saying no and note it is in keeping with the LIN Media interview policy. 

I made my interview request to Channel 4 General Manager Rene LaSpina, who amazingly has to ask the corporate offices for approval for something as small as an interview request. When she told me Wednesday that the answer was no, I almost couldn't believe it.

I say "almost" because I had to do cartwheels to get permission to interview Jacquie Walker for a flattering story about her 30th anniversary at the station.

LIN Media apparently has what members of the media refer to as an "anti-publicist" working in its public relations department. By that, I mean the LIN public relations department seems more determined to suppress information and positive publicity than take advantage of it.

It's an idiotic stance, especially for a news organization.

To Channel 2's credit, it allowed me to interview anchor Maryalice Demler recently for a story that it knew or at least suspected was going to be critical of her. Channel 2 is owned by Gannett, a media company that understands how foolish it would be to deny access to staffers who spend their days trying to get access to newsmakers.

I received a one-sentence explanation from LaSpina late Wednesday about why the interview request was denied.

"Please understand that she is leaving for personal reasons and it's our policy not to discuss personal matters publicly," LaSpina wrote. "Please respect that."

I wasn't asking for LIN Media to discuss personal matters. I was asking for the right to ask Fairbanks to discuss her personal decision. She’s a grownup. She can talk for herself.

LIN's foolish stance makes you wonder what it is worried about. Is there something else going on here?

As she has proven in more than two years, Fairbanks is a very smart woman. She is classy. She probably would have said nice things about her colleagues at Channel 4 and about Western New York.

More importantly for the story, she would have explained what a tough decision she made and perhaps addressed why she put her husband’s job before hers.

When she came to Buffalo, her husband apparently put her job before his so now that the roles are switched it is a potentially compelling human interest story.

Fairbanks apparently doesn't have a job yet in Traverse City. In a Facebook post, Fairbanks said it might be time for a career change. It would have been nice to discuss that, too.

The foolishness of LIN Media’s refusal to allow Fairbanks to be interviewed is magnified by the fact that she presumably will be able to talk after her final day at the station in late June.

That's unless the station makes her sign a confidentiality statement. And considering this foolishness, I wouldn't put it past LIN Media.   


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About Talkin' TV

Alan Pergament

Alan Pergament

Alan Pergament has continued to blog about television topics since retiring in 2010 as The News' television writer after 28 years on the beat. From local on-air personalities to ratings to the latest on network and cable programming, he keeps you informed.

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