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Bumped off the back page, Paul Douglas rips WCCO

I’ve inadvertently grabbed a tornado’s tail.

Paul Douglas
Paul Douglas

Thursday night, I posted some thoughts on the new Star Tribune-WCCO deal that left back-page weather essayist Paul Douglas out in the cold. I noted the content-and-promotion deal could bring in revenue for both struggling parties, and that the Strib was saving extra bucks swapping out a paid columnist for a meteorological team willing to work free.

I woke up Friday morning to a cordial email from Douglas, who spoke kindly of the paper but made it clear its financial gain was more than I’d indicated.

Just wanted to weigh in here and correct one item in your timely article. WCCO-TV is not providing weather content “for free.” I heard it (from the very top echelon of the Star Tribune) that Channel 4 is spending “big bucks” for the privilege of being on the weather page. So yes, this is all about generating new revenue for the Star Tribune at a time they are struggling with Chapter 11. They went from paying me every month, to receiving significant dollars from CBS for their weather content. Again, they are paying for placement of their meteorologists and brand in print, and on the Star Tribune’s web site.

I understand why they did it, to try to stay afloat financially. If I was a manager at the Star Tribune I probably would have said “show me the money,” too. These are the times we live in. I’m sending you the same goodbye note I sent to the Star Tribune today (I think it’s buried somewhere in the metro section). At least they had the courtesy of allowing me to say goodbye.

Finally, I don’t think my departure from WCCO-TV had anything to do with global warming. Never once did they tell me to “ignore the science” or “go easy on climate change.” It was all about the money. They had to cut their bottom line, and in light of my entrepreneurial successes I was an easy, logical target. It would be a sad day for science and free speech if that was, in fact, the reason they sent me packing. I seriously doubt it.

I asked WCCO’s news director Scott Libin if his operation was indeed shoveling bucks for back-page placement. Unfortunately, the corporate shields were up. “Honestly, we’ve said all that’s appropriate about the deal with the Star Tribune, so we’re not going to talk any more about that,” Libin said.

My sources on the Strib business side aren’t as good, so I haven’t been able to confirm Douglas’ allegation from that end. For now, it’s he-said, they-won’t-say.

I wrote Douglas back to confirm I could use his comments. After saying I should “feel free,” he went off on his old station in a way I didn’t see coming:

One part of the whole ‘CCO saga that never came out: late last March they terminated me, to save money, or so they told me. But initially they had no intention of honoring my “no cut contract”, which was in my contract and obligated them to pay me the remaining 9 months of my deal. They had found a “loophole” according to Scott Libin, delivered with a smarmy grin.

At least SAL [WCCO general manager Susan Adams Lloyd]  apologized and appeared genuinely pained to have to let me go. Then they proceeded to encourage me to come back into the station and work for 2 more months, thru the end of the May ratings, “to give me the send-off I deserve.” It wasn’t until we threatened a class-action age discrimation lawsuit that they relented and paid me what they owed me contractually.

That’s why I never came back into the station to say goodbye to colleagues and viewers. Questionable treatment after 10 years of service to The Hometown Team.

It’s water over the damn, I’ve turned the page and moved on, but your readers deserve the truth, not corporate spin. Again WCCO is paying the Strib to be on the weather page, an expensive product placement. I certainly wish the Strib well and continue to root for their survival and success in these unprecedented times.

Well.

It was clear last April that Douglas had no love lost for Channel 4 management, especially after giving spiky interviews to the Strib’s Neal Justin and his former station, KARE11. But I hadn’t heard about the smarm factor, the “loophole,” or the threatened “class-action discrimination suit.”

Back to you, Scott Libin. “We’re not going to talk any more about personal issues, so I’m not going to respond to that accusation.”

I have some more checking to do, but the weather guy can really kick up a storm, huh?

Comments (12)

  1. Submitted by dan buechler on 02/13/2009 - 06:54 pm.

    a semi related matter chris harte was in austin TX the past few days bidding and presenting

  2. Submitted by Ann Spencer on 02/14/2009 - 12:47 am.

    The Strib has no classical music critic on staff (the last opera review they published was written by a dance critic), no Paul Douglas, no Nick Coleman—but they have a “style” reporter and publish full-page spreads of photos of attendees at various galas and social events, with detailed descriptions of the clothes they’re wearing. Sad, just sad.

  3. Submitted by Bob Spaulding on 02/14/2009 - 09:48 am.

    Thanks Paul, for keeping it real, grounded, and local.

    This sad story is one more example of an industry that has far too frequently abandoned its sense of ethics or social responsibility for the lure of scrounging for every last time of sensationalistic or ethically hollow dollars.

    One hopes WCCO realizes that their brand name, compared to at least two of the other local news outlets, still carries a certain aura of community responsibility, and that has the possibility of contributing to the station’s competitive edge long into the future.

    If CBS knew what they were doing, it would be Scott Libin that would be out of a job, not you.

  4. Submitted by William Souder on 02/14/2009 - 11:04 am.

    Hey…I think I see the solution to recent complaints about the Star Tribune’s theater coverage! Why not let the Guthrie and other companies in town write their own reviews and then pay to place them in the paper? The theaters get the kind of adoring coverage they crave and the Star Tribune can lay off a critic. It’s win-win!

    And if it works, just think where this concept could go. Politics, sports…

  5. Submitted by Drew Willard on 02/14/2009 - 06:54 pm.

    Paul D. is irritating. He was before he was a millionaire and continues to be so. That said, most weather-people on TV are irritating and I look out the window and do yahoo weather to see what’s happening. BTW, most of all tv news programs suck large time.

  6. Submitted by Norman Larson on 02/16/2009 - 01:10 pm.

    Did Paul Douglas really write that “It’s water over the damn…”?

  7. Submitted by Eric Henly on 02/16/2009 - 04:43 pm.

    Did Scott Libin say he wasn’t going to talk about “personal issues” or “personnel issues”? The distinction is important…

  8. Submitted by Don Jacobson on 02/17/2009 - 12:28 pm.

    Thanks for finally taking the gloves off, Paul

  9. Submitted by Ralph Green on 02/17/2009 - 01:08 pm.

    Your behind the curtain look at the raw realities of broadcast media is much like watching the effects of gravity. For two decades, economics have increasingly brought broadcasters to their knees with demands to deliver more news with fewer resources. The fall to the ground has broken the quality of electronic journalism.

    The truth is that “personality” issues aside, both Paul Douglas and Scott Libin are a pair of quality broadcasters. Scott proved it twice in the Twin Cities—first at KSTP when he nurtured its news into useful, and by broadcasting standards, throughtful content. After a second stint ruminating at the Poynter Institute (the news think folks), he’s accomplishing the same thing at WCCO. It’s virtually an oxymoron these days to attempt to deliver quality broadcast news either on the national or the local level. Libin is among the news executives who has managed to cling to the notion that content matters. Viewers should be grateful he guides a Minnesota news outlet.

    Paul Douglas is another quality broadcaster who has proved to be a constant innovator in television weather. He engineered countless graphic improvements to the way weather is presented to viewers—ones that are employed at television stations across the country. He never makes much of it in public, preferring to deflect his contributions with self-deprecating humor. As a on-air personality, take him or leave him, his absence from Twin Cities airwaves is a loss of content quality. Paul’s unfortunate dismissal from WCCO portends future degradation of broadcast news. He will not be the last talent sacrificed at local stations.

    Personally, I hope Paul finds another public outlet. I hope Scott continues to defy gravity. I hope that local media never fall to the depths seen in most broadcast markets.

  10. Submitted by Jeff Kline on 02/17/2009 - 04:38 pm.

    Hay Paul; the next time you want to do something entrepreneurial, give me a holler. I don’t have cash, but I work hard. Everything you’ve done before has worked out very well. I see something coming for you in the future. Your one of the good guys. Keep on keepin’ on man!!

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