Dayton’s WDTN is moving in a new direction
Over the past year, Dayton residents have seen some of the most recognizable on-air personalities leave NBC affiliate WDTN-TV (Channel 2) and sister station WBDT, Dayton’s CW.
Michelle Kingsfield, a news anchor since 2007, was let go at the end of June 2012. Then General Manager and Executive Vice President Lisa Barhorst moved to rival station WKEF/WRGT, the ABC and Fox affiliate across town, in July. Jim Bucher, the 29-year WDTN veteran and host of “Bucher’s Beat,” parted ways with the station in January.
Familiar faces stayed, like news anchor Mark Allan and meteorologist Jamie Jarosik. New leadership – President and General Manager Joseph Abouzeid and News Director Denise Eck – were brought in to take the station in a new direction.
Abouzeid joined WDTN in October 2012 after leading WPRI-TV in Providence, R.I., to the number-one evening news spot with key demographics for the first time in years. WDTN is second to WHIO-TV (Channel 7) in Dayton, but has less than 30 percent of the market.
“Our numbers are up, but more importantly, our newscasts are better. I’ll worry about the ratings when we’re the best 2 News we can be,” says Abouzeid. “My job is to lay out the vision to make sure we have the people in place. Our goal is to be the best news organization in the market.”
After Kingsfield was let go, viewers criticized the decision on the station’s Facebook site. But Abouzeid’s enthusiasm for bringing the best product is undeniable.
“There’s a new energy that I feel throughout the building. And that’s not the result of any personnel changes,” he says. “It’s the result of having a plan in place that we believe will help us be better.”
The first priority is beefing up WDTN’s investigative journalism efforts. Investigative journalism is time-consuming and expensive, and many news organizations are cutting back in that area.
“But that’s the good stuff,” argues Allan.
Abouzeid seems genuine when he talks about the importance of the on-air product over ratings, like the underdog who wants to prove himself.
“We’re going to ask the tough questions. We want to prove the newscasts are relevant to viewers’ lives,” he says. “We’re going to be the voice for the viewer who doesn’t have a voice.”
Abouzeid and Allan want to give Miami Valley viewers a real reason to watch WDTN’s newscasts, and if that means watching out for viewers’ pocketbooks and well being, then what’s wrong with that?
“If you’re looking for shootings, fires and car crashes, there are places to get that in this market. But there’s more to news than that,” Allan says.
On April 15, Boston was rocked with the devastating bombings. It was the first terrorist attack on U.S. soil since 9/11. But no matter where you live, there’s always a local connection. Abouzeid is from Boston.
“It was really terrible to see the city where I grew up in that way,” he says. “The first thing you think of is your family and friends. After the shock wears off, it’s just sad.”
Abouzeid, who studied journalism at Boston University, wasn’t the only one on the WDTN staff with a connection to Boston or its marathon. For the past 12 years, Allan’s brother-in-law ran in the race; this was the first year he didn’t participate. Allan had always tracked his brother-in-law’s progress and knew where to go online to find other runners from Dayton. He found 57.
“It was a challenging day. Everybody had a task. We had two hours to pull this together,” says Allan. “I felt good professionally walking out of here. We wouldn’t have done that six months ago. We were better that day.”
WDTN’s 2 News team led the 5 o’clock newscast with a runner from Springboro who was in Boston during the chaos. For the next several days, WDTN reported more stories from Boston with local connections.
“In the 18 years that I’ve worked here, no matter what happens, there’s a Miami Valley connection,” says Allan.
No Place Like Home
And no one is more connected to Miami Valley than meteorologist Jamie Jarosik, a native of Kettering.
Jarosik has always been fascinated with the weather, and she even had a WDTN connection growing up: The station sponsored her cheerleading squad at Fairmont High School. Chief meteorologist Brian Davis lived on her street and meteorologist Carl Nichols was just around the corner.
“I know it makes him (Davis) feel old when I say, ‘I babysat your kids,’ ” laughs Jarosik,
Jarosik has lived all over the country. She worked for stations in Montana, Illinois and West Virginia, but Dayton has always been her home. When she was a kid, her family moved to Philadelphia while her father obtained his master’s degree at the University of Pennsylvania.
“The summer before we left, there was a promo WDTN was running, ‘Hello Dayton.’ I just remembered watching it and crying,” says Jarosik.
After two years in Philadelphia, her family moved back to Dayton. That was the first time she watched her favorite movie, The Wizard of Oz, and was intrigued by the tornado that swept up Dorothy and carried her to Oz.
“I had all these questions, and that was before the Internet, so my mom had to say ‘I don’t know,’ ” says Jarosik.
She found answers at Ohio University, where she received her broadcast journalism degree, and at Mississippi State, where she studied broadcast meteorology. As a hands-on learner, Jarosik also spent time in Kansas City in the heart of Tornado Alley.
“We had 16 tornadoes in one day in our viewing area,” she says. “They were classic textbook supercell thunderstorms. It was exciting to see as a meteorologist. But as a person, it was devastating because it did do a lot of damage to the towns there.”
In January 2003, Jarosik was voted “Favorite Weather Personality” in a Dayton Daily News readers poll. Her popularity might be because of her extensive storm tracking experience and love of Dayton, but she makes herself available to the viewers as a social media whirlwind.
“When I’m not on air, I’m tweeting and blogging,” says Jarosik, who keeps viewers up to date on the forecast nearly minute by minute. She has at least 2,300 more Twitter followers than Allan, who jokes that he’s “more of a follower than a tweeter.”
“Sometimes people don’t have a chance to watch. They can just look on their phone,” says Jarosik, who understands the lives of busy families, which adds to her appeal. Her day starts at 1 a.m. and doesn’t end until 10 a.m. while still finding time to be a mother and wife.
Like Allan and Abouzeid, Jarosik feels positive about the changes at WDTN. “We’ve added to the newscast in the morning. Every 10 minutes, we’re giving them weather and traffic. We are trying to implement things to help people in their day-to-day life.”
This isn’t the era of “prompter jockeys” as Allan calls it. So, you won’t find Allan or Jarosik relying on a teleprompter a la Ron Burgundy to deliver the news or forecast.
“The days of sitting behind the desk are over,” says Allan. “What we’re able to do now as journalists is go live from anywhere in the world, as long as you have a cell signal, yourself, a camera and a backpack.”
Technology has changed the face of journalism – for the good and bad. There’s so much information streaming through the Internet that it’s difficult to determine the truth. Think of the false information that spread after the bombings in Boston.
“That big breaking news situation confirmed the role of experienced journalists and importance of delivering the right information to the viewing public,” says Abouzeid.
Journalism is changing, and technology is a catalyst. That’s the reality, and Abouzeid is excited about the station’s multi-media platform. “We have the best app in the city,” he says proudly. “We’re going to be there no matter what the platform is.”
“Change is often good. It’s different the way the viewers see it,” says Allan. “I’ve been in this business for over 38 years, and the only constant over that time is change. I have a good feeling about where this station is positioned and about the future.”