Channel 8 gives Rene Syler the boot
Eager to head off a lawsuit, A.H. Belo Corp. attorneys are negotiating with a lawyer for dumped Channel 8 anchor Rene Syler, BeloWatch has learned.
Syler, who worked as a field reporter and as co-anchor for WFAA's noon news broadcast, was summoned into the office of station general manager Cathy Creany on the morning of December 4, and advised that her contract--scheduled to expire January 26--would not be renewed. She was not permitted to go on the air again.
In fact, the station has already hired another African-American woman, Gina Redmond, to replace Syler. Redmond will begin work as a reporter and noon anchor Tuesday.
Until October, Syler also rose daily at 3 a.m. to co-anchor "Daybreak," the station's morning news show. Filling that role for more than three years, she won respect for her sure-handed work on the station's live coverage immediately after the bombing of the Oklahoma City courthouse.
In his recent assessment of sweeps coverage by Dallas' stations, Morning News TV critic Ed Bark praised one of Syler's stories as "compelling and illuminating." (Bark, however, has said nothing in print about Syler's abrupt departure from the Belo-owned station--other than to mention in passing that she "has left the station.")
Why did Syler get the axe? Creany and news director John Miller--who also attended the December 4 meeting--reportedly gave her no explanation.
Creany declined comment to BeloWatch, saying: "It's a personnel matter, and we never discuss any personnel matters with anybody publicly."
One theory is that the move resulted from her husband's employment with KDFW-Channel 4, loathed by Belo management for hiring staffers from Belo stations. Syler's spouse, former WFAA station manager Buff Parham, now works as director of sales for Channel 4.
Syler, 33, responded to the decision on her contract by retaining Ken Betts, a lawyer at the downtown firm of Winstead Sechrest & Minick. Betts is now seeking to negotiate an amicable settlement of the matter with Marian Spitzberg, Belo's vice president and assistant general counsel.
Key issues, BeloWatch is told, are whether Syler's contract required that she receive 90 days' notice of non-renewal; the possible waiving of a one-year no-compete clause to allow her to go to work immediately at another local station; and, of course, money.
Because of her husband's employment and her own four-year tenure here, Syler wants to stay in Dallas.
Citing the ongoing negotiations, Syler declined to discuss details of her departure with BeloWatch, but made clear that she did not want to leave Channel 8. "I enjoyed my time there. I grew a lot. I learned a lot. I do appreciate the time I spent there, and I'm sorry that it ended that way."
Three cheers for layoffs
It's remarkable how benign--even beneficial--Dallas' Only Daily can make 6,000 layoffs seem. The News' recent coverage of the decision by Kimberly-Clark to send thousands onto unemployment lines--just days before the holiday season--was practically celebratory.
The pink slips will result from American business' latest mega-merger--the $9.4-billion acquisition by Irving-based Kimberly-Clark Corp. of Scott Paper Co.
On December 13, News business staffer Richard A. Oppel Jr. reported the completion of the long-awaited merger between the giant paper companies, which sell tissues, baby wipes, and diapers, among other products. He noted that K-C officials said, "the merger will save up to $1 billion over two years," and that analysts expected the executives, in detailing the savings, "to discuss layoffs--including some that could occur at the company's Irving headquarters--as well as possible asset sales."
The next day's story, also on the top of the business page, brought what--in another day--would have been treated as bad news. "Kimberly-Clark to pare 6,000 jobs," read the headline over the story by Oppel and Bill Deener. But by the sub-headline, the News had already shifted to an upbeat scenario: "Merger to cause 'minimal' cuts in Irving."
Noted the story's third paragraph: "Most of the layoffs, which had been expected, will come at Scott offices in Florida and Delaware, and employees at Kimberly-Clark's Irving headquarters will see 'minimal' cutbacks, chief executive Wayne Sanders said."
"Expected" perhaps. But not in the News. The previous story hadn't suggested layoffs of such proportions--10 percent of the total employment of K-C and Scott.
Oppel and Deener went on: "The layoffs announced Wednesday are expected to translate into gains for Kimberly-Clark shareholders, company officials and analysts said. Executives said the cutbacks and other steps will save the company $1.2 billion through 1998, which, after paying taxes, should flow to net income." On Wall Street, the story noted, K-C stock rose after financial analysts boosted their earnings estimates.
Hurray! Another triumph for American management!
But wait. What about the 6,000 workers? Which employees would get this bad news? How would K-C choose who to axe? What kind of severance pay was the company providing? What sort of assistance was it offering the laid-off employees to help them find new jobs? How would their families cope with it during the holidays? Was this a compassionate company--or a cold-hearted one?
The News didn't bother--that day or since--to address any of those critical issues. It didn't bother to interview a single worker--not even one suffering from those "minimal" cuts in Irving.
It didn't bother, in short, to illustrate the impact of the merger on more than Wall Street--on humans, instead of just the bottom line.
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This kind of bloodless coverage is not unusual. Unfortunately, it's the way many papers cover layoffs these days--particularly when the company is an influential member of the local business community, as Kimberly-Clark is in Dallas.
It probably didn't boost what little inclination the News had to raise questions that Belo CEO Robert Decherd, just a week before, had been given a prestigious seat on the Kimberly-Clark board of directors.
In recent years, the News has marketed its news coverage with the slogan "The Story of All Of Us."
Try selling that these days to the Kimberly-Clark 6,000.