CBS intends to name WBAL-TV news director Princell Hair next week to a post in which he'll help guide news operations at network-owned stations nationwide.
Late this month, Hair will become the network's corporate news director, a new position, officials at the network and WBAL said yesterday. He'll work with Joel Cheatwood, a CBS vice president, under whom he also served in Miami and Chicago.
Hair will be replaced by well-traveled news veteran Margaret Cronan, 36, who currently is the news director for WPBF in West Palm Beach. That station, owned by the same parent company as WBAL, shares the Baltimore station's quick-paced approach to news coverage, and she pledged no major changes in that format.
Hair's current and future bosses praised him yesterday. "He's demonstrated, as he's matured, that he's a great motivator and a good teacher," Cheatwood said yesterday. Hair will report to Cheatwood, who also is the news director at WCBS in New York, and Fred Reynolds, the president of the network's division of local stations.
CBS' own stations have not uniformly enjoyed the same ratings success as the parent network. In the nation's three largest markets - New York, Los Angeles and Chicago - the CBS stations often trail in the ratings. Hair said he will help oversee marketing, branding, hiring, news philosophy and other policies at stations in Austin, Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, Green Bay, Miami, Philadelphia and Salt Lake City. CBS owns 35 stations, of which 17 have news operations.
WBAL's owner, Hearst-Argyle, released Hair from his current contract with the requirement that he not conduct any planning for the CBS-owned station in Baltimore, WJZ. (WBAL is affiliated with NBC.)
Those who have worked for Hair since his arrival in 1998 describe him as a thoughtful and soothing presence - that rare television executive who doesn't have to raise his voice to make a point. "What I've always appreciated is his ability to step back and bring a different perspective to stories," said Jayne Miller, an investigative reporter at WBAL.
Hair's attempts to infuse newscasts with drama sometimes yielded mixed results. In March, WBAL first broadcast a live car chase from the station's helicopter - even though police had quickly stopped following the suspects, who had not been charged with any crime.
In recent years, WBAL has challenged WJZ, the historic market leader, for ratings primacy in Baltimore. And earlier this year, WBAL's newscast placed third in the highly regarded National Headliner Awards.
"Princell's done a very good job," said WBAL general manager Bill Fine. "His legacy is the people he leaves behind, and his leaving the station in as good a shape as possible. The audience will not miss a beat. We're looking to keep the momentum going and to continue our improvement."
Cronan has spent nearly four years at the southern Florida station, where she was named news director within weeks of its acquisition by Hearst-Argyle. While still rated third in its market, WPBF has become a credible challenger to the region's other stations. Cronan has also worked in New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and in Baltimore, where she was producer of WJZ's late newscast from 1990 to 1992. She held positions in radio and television in Salisbury before her WJZ job.
Wherever she goes, Cronan has kept a picture on her desk of the late Al Sanders, the locally renowned WJZ anchor. Nonetheless, in an interview, Cronan said she found the way in which WBAL presents the news to be more exciting. She begins work on July 18.