Black Friday

In 2012, I seized an incredible opportunity to work in a newly-created web desk position for two television stations under one roof in Springfield, Missouri.

KY3, the NBC affiliate, had been the highest-rated television station for years with no station coming close. KSPR, the ABC affiliate, was down the hall and had gained a reputation as a solid news station with great reporting and continually increasing ratings.

The company that owned both cared about its people, and you could tell from the moment you walked in the door. Many employees had 10, 20 or even 30 years or more of service to the company. The work environment was stable and the people who had been there knew how to continue the successes at KY3 that they had contributed to for years.

Over my two years there, I split time on the web desks between KY3 and KSPR. I formed friendships with the more than 150 employees in departments ranging from news to master control to sales to studio and even beyond that. I got a sense every day that people were thankful to be there, and the quality of work reflected that.

Friends became family. We saw each other at work five, maybe six days a week, and spent time together outside of it so often that we got to know each other incredibly well. Those of us who worked behind the scenes formed an especially close bond, in particular because we were all young professionals establishing ourselves and sharing life experience.

I pined for home and ended up returning to the Northwest in early 2014. Even after my return, the friendships and family connections I made from my time working in that building have lasted. My Springfield friends and I visit each other as often as we can, even if it means only being able to do so once a year or so. We’re always in touch whether through social media, text messages, a phone call — you name it.

Had I decided to stay at the station, I imagine that I would have maintained my job in helping grow the social media channels for the stations, posting stories and video to the web and doing special projects on the side. My job was stable and it was my choice to leave, and it was a tough decision to do so.

But hold on. Schurz Communications, the company that owned KY3/KSPR and a variety of other TV stations around the country, sold its entire television portfolio to Gray Television of Atlanta. The move shocked many of my friends who were still there, and I began to hear rumors of possible layoffs and station consolidation when it happened in 2015.

It began to happen fairly rapidly: the robotic cameras used in KSPR’s studio worked well enough that KY3 adopted the same system, and as a result some jobs were shed. If my memory serves me correctly, there was a first round of layoffs that entailed people in Creative Services, Master Control and other areas of the station.

In recent months, rumblings of a major layoff circulated among the circle of friends that remained at 999 West Sunshine. Several people I worked with sought employment elsewhere in television markets across the country and moved on. Others continued to stay with the ship.

On Friday, August 18, Gray Television made the decision to fire many people across the building in what is seen as that afore-mentioned consolidation. Many who have dedicated their work to the station for years were told on that day that their employment was ending. Although many saw it coming, it has still shocked and angered those of us close to the situation.

The Springfield News-Leader was first to report on the firings. Their tally of those fired came to a dozen.

Those laid off included one of the main anchors at KSPR, photographers, master control operators and many more. In a press release issued on KY3’s website, there was no mention of any names, how many jobs were cut, or even a word of thanks to those who had been so instrumental in the station’s success up to that point. As former KSPR Senior Producer Ron Davis succinctly tweeted, “the death toll is ignored.”

Sobering to me personally is that the position I held for two years was also eliminated. In fact, two web editors are now gone. Their loss is unfathomable especially in a landscape that has seen news consumption increase toward mobile Internet.

I could turn this post into a screed about the state of journalism today. I will not. There are many people more qualified than I to pontificate on where media is going. And if you can read between the lines, you can see what yesterday’s firings were all about without me even having to provide any context.

The truly heartbreaking thing about yesterday’s firings is the realization that while the news business is one of transition, with reporters coming and going  and talent moving on up to bigger markets, one never truly expected the people who had served for so long at the company to be unceremoniously let go. These people are members of the Springfield community who have invested time and talent to their craft, and are fine people. They did not deserve what they got yesterday. And Gray Television, conversely, didn’t deserve them.

Even writing this one day later, my heart is still sick about the entire situation. The firings have struck a chord with viewers. I don’t know what will happen in the future, but what is clear is that there are many great people, very adept and talented professionals, family members who no longer work at 999 West Sunshine.

In the midst of all this, there are still very many good people who work in that building. If you are a consumer of news in Springfield, I hope that you still support them. Gray Television does not deserve your support, but the hard working people in that building do.

I am saddened, and likely will be for quite awhile, to see the building blocks of KY3 Inc’s success systematically and callously destroyed. For those who were laid off, my heart is with you all. For those still there, my best wishes to you in the days, weeks and months ahead.

EDIT 8/21/2017: The original version of this post referenced a Facebook post by Steve Grant’s KY3 Facebook page that has since been removed. There are doubts as to the original post’s authenticity, and as such I have scrubbed the references to the post. As of Monday morning, I am not aware of an exact number of people laid off.

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