"A Stupid Move"

FTVLive was FIRST to tell you that WTEV/WAWS was going to wipe out their main anchors and start over from scratch.

When FTVLive FIRST broke the story we received a number of emails from TV critics and newspapers asking us about our story.

Since our report, a number of other media outlets have also reported on what is being called a very stupid move by the Cox station.

The local paper in Jacksonville, The Florida Times Union has finally gotten around to the story.

The paper writes that the decision by the station to not renew the contracts of five top anchors is a shocking move that could backfire on the station, says a University of Georgia lecturer with more than three decades of experience in the TV new business.

“This is so unusual I’m a little dumbfounded,” said Michael Castengera, a senior lecturer at the University of Georgia’s Grady School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

He was reacting to the report that WAWS-TV Fox30 and WTEV-TV CBS47, which share news resources as Action News, told anchors Mark Spain, Paige Kelton, Tera Barz, Mike Barz and Lynnsey Gardner that their contracts will not be renewed.

Castengera, who started his TV career in the late 1970s at WJXT TV-4 in Jacksonville and has been a news director, station manager and news consultant, said the “wholesale slaughter” of the people who are “the face of your station” strikes him as “a stupid move.”

“There has to be a strong reason to do something like this, and I frankly don’t think there is a strong enough reason, from a business point of view, much less from a human point of view,” said Castengera, who admitted he felt strongly in part because Gardner is a former student of his. “It is a reflection of poor management judgment ... Even if the viewers don’t like the talent, it’s very, very risky.”

Like Castengera, Mort Crim, a Jacksonville resident who served as an anchor in Detroit, Chicago, Philadelphia and Louisville and was the model for Will Ferrell’s character in “Anchorman,” was surprised by the news.

“I have never seen a situation where five anchors were told they were being let go at the same time,” Crim said.

But one person who wasn’t particularly surprised was Julie Watkins, who left Action News, where she had been serving as a meteorologist since 2008, last weekend.

The pressure for ratings improvement had been increasing since Cox Media Group bought Fox30 and CBS47 from Newport Television in December 2012, Watkins said.

“There was not the turnaround they wanted,” Watkins said. “I remember when Cox bought us, someone said, ‘Cox does not own number three stations.’”

Watkins said she is sad for her former colleagues.

“They put their blood, sweat and tears into their work,” she said.