Newsman Rowlett Gets Tough on Contract Talks
No. I anchor at WFAA hires combative lawyer to negotiate deal.
MARCH 8 WILL MARK Tracy Rowlett’s 25th year at WFAA-Channel 8. Since moving to Dallas in 1974 as an investigative reporter, he’s been an integral part of the station’s ability to dominate ratings in the Dallas market for more than 20 years- and one of a handful in the country who have anchored for so long at one station.
“Tracy’s the franchise,” says political consultant Rob Allyn. “Yeah, it’s an ensemble performance, but he’s their Walter Cronkite. He’s the star of the show: the credible, trustworthy newsman who sets their newscast above the rest.” But it’s also the first year that Rowlett. 56, has asked an intermediary, lawyer “Fighting Steve” Malouf-who once punched an opponent in a deposition-to negotiate his contract, up for renewal in April. Several insiders report that negotiations have been contentious, and that Rowlett left one contract discussion in a fury. Rowlett calls that an exaggeration.
“1 don’t want this to sound like I have a problem with Channel 8.” Rowlett says. “They’re good people. The business is changing, and it’s very difficult for managers to do all the things they want to do.”
But Rowlett’s decision to use “a buffer” between him and management for the first time in two decades illustrates how belt-tightening at Channel 8, known as “a reporter “s shop” that produces high-quality journalism, is taking a toll as the shrinking audience for network television and ABC’s prime-time struggles erode its market share.
Though WFAA is the No. 1 ABC affiliate in late news among the 34 largest markets, several sources say Rowlett has been told any bonuses depend on the station increasing its numbers among women 18 to 49. (Market segments are used to sell to specific advertisers.) “No comment,” Rowlett says. But he points out that the networks lost a million viewers last year.
“The pie is being sliced so many ways,” says Rowlett-by cable, satellite systems, video, the Internet. Newscasts must adapt: fewer talking heads, jazzier pictures, sexier stories. That runs counter to Rowlett’s instincts. He’s an “old-school” broadcaster, says a fellow TV journalist. “He hates the new-fangled TV news. He hates being live when you don’t have to be live.”
Rowlett worries about market pressures on TV news in general and on Channel 8’s trademark quality in particular “If a talking head is saying something interesting,” Rowlett says, “it can be damn good TV.”
Though WFAA has made some changes in presentation, news director John Miller has resisted trends and quick fixes. In fact, there’s some evidence that what makes anchors like Rowlett so strong is tradition, familiarity. “He’s a proven commodity to people,” Miller says. “People trust him. they believe him. That counts for a lot when people are deciding who to listen to.”
Rowlett declined to discuss his contract negotiations. Anchors’ salaries are held close to the vest, as are their “Q ratings.” which show audience attitudes. But in the late ’80s, says an insider, Rowlett’s salary was “pushing $500,000.”
Don Fitzpatrick. a media headhunter based in San Francisco, says that anchor salaries vary wildly from market to market. The top anchor in Los Angeles at KNBC makes $ 1.6 million; the top anchor at the No. 2 station makes $450,000. “Tracy’s value is that he’s been in that market for 25 years,” says Fitzpatrick. “He’s one of those guys who started out as a reporter in the gravy days of TV, when every time they negotiated their contract, they doubled it. Now, it’s a much different situation.”
Belo owned three stations in 1979; now it owns 17. “They paid good money for those,” Fitzpatrick says. “Your stockholders want to see great returns.”
When Belo\s stock price dropped 20 percent last year, the company announced cost-cutting measures. Even after a handful of station employees took retirement buyouts (including old-timer Bert Shipp), five lower-level employees were laid off. “There was a lot of fat,” one insider admits.
In fact, says Miller, the news budget at Channel 8 for ’99 is higher than last year’s. The station just hired two new reporters.
But as Channel 8 employees watched the value of their retirement nest-eggs sink, morale plummeted. They now gripe about the high expenses the company incurred to set up TXCN, joking bitterly about the “$2 million lobby” under construction in the warehouse behind the News.
Inside WFAA, rumors are rampant that Channel 5. perennially the No. 2 station, has approached Rowlett about switching teams. “Channel 8 is very fearful of Channel 5 taking over at 10,” says one media observer, “and they are nipping at their heels.” (Channel 5 GM Doug Adams didn’t return D’s call.) Rowlett says he hasn’t been approached by 5 but acknowledges that typically, such approaches are made by intermediaries. A few years ago, Channel 4 tried unsuccessfully to hire Rowlett away.
Rowlett’s contract has a one-year noncompete clause. But Fitzpatrick says that broadcasters have successfully challenged non-compete clauses in other markets.
Would snaring Rowlett be a good deal for KXAS-TV? “I would assume Tracy is still the No. 1 anchor in Dallas.” says Fitzpatrick. “I would think so.”
But it didn’t work when KDFW hired No. 2 anchor John Criswell away from WFAA. And there’s a question of how important any one person is to Channel 8, which has a deep bench of good anchors.
And No. 2 anchor Chip Moody is very popular with viewers, but his continuing illness puts a question mark beside his name. Some nights, he looks so sick mat viewers deluge the station with concerned phone calls. Could WFAA hold on to its top spot if it lost Moody to illness and Rowlett to the competition? “If I were Belo,” says one former TV news director, “I’d be worried.”
MONEY SHOULD BE FUN
When cowboys play the skin game.
With Dallas’ Western roots, it’s natural that local shoppers can spend small fortunes on cowboy boots. This pair of Lucchese foot and top alligator-skin boots are sumptuous enough to give even the most practical cowboy foot envy.
The boots retail at Western Warehouse for $6,000 and take between six and eight weeks to make, “It’s the finest boot you can buy, with the finest skin you can buy,” says general manager Marlon Pink.The top requires one piece of alligator belly-from a large alligator. Handmade, the boots have no inside seams, making them not only extravagant but comfortable as well.
Johnny Cash, various Dallas Cowboys, and Ross Perot are proud wearers of these luxe boots. “People buy them because they like the skin,” says assistant manager Tony Naba. “And you can tell they’re pretty expensive.”
Can you say “airport” in Urdu?
A list of Dallas cab drivers whose hack licenses are up for renewal in March:
Dallas Publisher Takes On Feminists, Gays, The Church
Conservative David flings rocks at cultural Goliaths.
With books called The Church Impotent, Goddess Unmasked, Homosexuality and American Public Life, and Domestic Tranquility: A Brief Against Feminism, Tom Spence is carving out a niche in the book world by focusing on cultural and social issues once occupied by Basic Books: weighty, thoughtful tomes.
One title that got a lot of local
attention was There’s More to Life Than Politics, by Morning News columnist Bill Murchison, “Spence is smart, focused, | and he knows what he’s trying to do, which is more than I can say for most publishers today.” says Murchison. whose book is a collection of his columns.
Tom Spence, 38, backed into publishing. His father ran WRS Publishing, a Waco house thai specialized in inspirational books. After practicing law in Boston, Spence began working on a doctorate in medieval history at Harvard. He abandoned that in 1994 to return to Texas, where he worked with his father’s company. Interested in doing other types of books-and “in getting the hell out of Waco”-Spence and his wife. Amy, who have six children, moved to Dallas. He set up Spence Publishing with Mitch Muncie, former editor of the Texas Republic Magazine.
Since May of 1996. Spence has ’published a dozen books, with I two now at the ’ printers.
The first book to catch fire was Domestic Tranquility, by F. Carolyn Graglia, who left a law career to care for her children. After a review in the Wall Street Journal and a mention by Dr. Laura, Graglia hit Booknotes on C-Span. “That really set that book on Fire,” Spence says proudly. While he won’t reveal sales figures. Spence says “for a small independent publisher, that’s a home run.”
Storefront for The Cave prompts protest.
As the chicken wire and stucco took shape on the new storefront in the 9400 block of Garland Road, a few neighbors began to get alarmed, Some nearby residents apparently thought the funky rock entrance indicated a shop for drug paraphernalia to complement Suffer City, the tattoo parlor a few storefronts down. Then they began to call City Hall to complain.
Formerly on Bell Ave. in East Dallas, The Cave is a cultured rock, art, and mineral store. Owners Elizabeth Reindel and Steve Orth built the storefront themselves using 39,000 pounds of concrete. Inside, it has a waterfall, a moat, and dripping stalactites. Reindel says that some neighbors have been very supportive, but one in particular has lobbied the city to scuttle their distinctive design.
“The city’s been out to The Cave, but they haven’t found anything wrong,” says mayor pro tern Mary Poss. “The building is in compliance with city code. People that I’ve talked with don’t like the design, but I tell them city code doesn’t cover ugly.”
Curious about the creep down the street?
Sex offenders listed on the Internet.
The names of about 15,500 convicted Texas sex offenders are now listed on the Texas Department of Public Safety web site at www.txdps.state.tx.us, searchable by name, sex, race, date of birth, and ZIP code.
Chuck Swindoll’s Media Motives
New mega-church to be hot spot.
Talk at Dallas Theological Seminary is that one of the main reasons president Dr. Charles “Chuck” Swindoll is building a new church in Frisco is to provide sermon fodder for his “Insight for Living” radio show, which airs here on KCBI-FM (90.9) weekdays. Since he took the helm of DTS almost four years ago, Swindoll has not had a regular pulpit, and the radio program, aired worldwide 1,600 times a day, needs fresh material.
The wealthy area northwest of Dallas is certainly not unchurched; Prestonwood Baptist and Fellowship Church have built huge sanctuaries in the area: Because of Swindoll’s huge following, Stonebriar Community Church (2,500 seats), set to open this spring, is expected to achieve mega-church status overnight.
HEARD ON THE STREET…
■ The shake-up at ABC’s PrimeTime Live is sending Olive Talley, former Morning News investigative reporter, back to Texas. Talley has toiled in New York for three-and-a-half years as a producer for Diane Sawyer. But last fall PrimeTime melded with 20/20, leaving producers such as Talley up in the air. Then NBC came courting. Talley will be moving back to Dallas to work for Dateline. ’Bout time. Talley married John Davidson, photo editor at the News, last year. “We’ll finally be living in the same ZIP code,” she says.
■ The early verdict on Belo’s new TXCN: Imagine CNN based in Amarillo. Glitches in using the cable news station’s digital equipment aren’t the main problem. It’s content. “I understand they spent $15 million setting it up,” says KLIF’s Kevin McCarthy, “and I can’t understand why they hired dime-store talent.” Reporters at the Morning New’s have all been sent to TV charm school; expect them to start popping up as talking heads. Also expect turf wars. Channel 8 reporters view the paper as competition. What happens when they both feed into TXCN?
■ Garth Brooks and other concert stars have cozy deals with the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram. In return for backstage access and the use of photos from his concerts, the paper agrees to use each picture only once; subsequent use requires express permission from Brooks’ office. In addition, the paper can’t sell pictures of him to the media or the general public. We got this one from AP-which, thankfully, is still in the business of journalism.■Former Dallas FBI agent and current Southlake resident Danny Coulson, 57, just published his first book, No Heroes, a nonfiction book about domestic terrorism. It also describes the disastrous Ruby Ridge incident that ended his 31-year career at the bureau. Coulson, who one insider says “got the shaft” in the fallout from Ruby Ridge, has an option to do two novels. He now handles security for “a major sports organization” and its top athletes.
■Though few of the name writers at the Morning News took the early retirement offered writers 55 and over (Waltrina Stovall. Jim Wright, and John Ardoin among them), the PBX system was wiped out: All six telephone operators took the buyout and said sayonar
■Just when it looked safe to go into a bookstore: Private investigator/self promoter Bill Dear has shut down his agency to work on a book about the O.J. Simpson case that reveals who really committed the murders of Ron Goldman and Nicole Simpson. Surprise! It wasn’t 0,
“I’ve worked four solid years on this,” says Dear. “I know he didn’t do it. I’m going to name the killer and the murder weapon.” He says his New York agent is shopping the proposal to publishers. Dear wants the book out by July, which will mark the fifth anniversary of the homicides.
■ Morning News staffer Bill Minutaglio. on leave while he writes an unauthorized biography of Gov. George W. Bush for Random House, is spending a lot of time talking to other journalists who have descended on Austin to write about the Republican presidential front-runner.
“Almost every major media outlet has someone working on it,” Minutaglio says. “I was interviewed in my home office by the BBC. People in England are fascinated by Texas.” Especially by the link in the family trees between the Bush dynasty and the Windsors. Come to think of it. King George II has a nice ring to it.
■ This month, Dallas gets its first real news stand. Billy’s World Wide News, the brain child of entrepreneurs Michael Denny and Billy Kaplan, located outside Panera Bakery at Preston and Belt Line, will sell 800 to 1.500 newspaper and magazine titles. A second location is planned for Preston Royal, with a total of eight to open in Dallas by the end of 1999. The mix of titles at each location will be a little different, i.e. European fashion and home mags for Preston Royal, NASCAR and hunting in Mesquite. “We think we can reinvent the newsstand like Starbucks reinvented coffee,” Denny says,
■ Long-time Fashion!Dallas writer Valli Herman has left the Morning News to work as senior fashion wtiter for the LA. Times, which means you may see her on the red carpet at the Oscars, documenting celebrities’ divine and/or dog-breath getups. But don’t expect Herman, at the News six years, to be replaced at F!D anytime soon; the paper is in a hiring “slush” (not the same as a hard freeze, but close). Management has been scrutinizing both Fashion!Dallas and High Profile for months, trying to decide what to do about the popular but ad-thin sections.
■ Fort Worth’s Magnolia Media Company’s newest magazine, Shuz, stretches the con cept of selective publishing, bordering on fetishism. Everything in the bi-annual guide (two issues: $18.95) directly or indirectly relates to footwear and the joys thereof. Editor Stacy Girard dreamed up the tide, and her enthusiasm for “what’s underfoot” is evident in every page, photo spread, and article on the wearing, buying, maintenance, and history of,..shoes. (“How does one store 500 pairs of shoes?” asks one story.)
Possessor of about 100 pairs, Girard chooses which shoes to wear and then picks clothes to match. “I look forward to wearing mules again in the spring,” she says. “I’m a huge sandal person.”
One perk of the job: shoe coups. “I just ordered a pair of denim platform wedges with faux flowers and fruit al! over them,” she says.
Newsman Rowlett Gets Tough on Contract Talks