Channel 2 loses its news director

Feger-Childers says resuscitating station burns her out

January 03, 2003|By David Folkenflik | David Folkenflik,SUN TELEVISION WRITER

After two years on the job, WMAR-TV news director Staci Feger-Childers has resigned, saying she had burned out in pushing to revive the station's flagging fortunes.

General manager Drew Berry informed staffers of her departure during brief meetings yesterday morning.

"It's a job with a high burnout factor," Feger-Childers, 35, said yesterday. She said she would take several months to determine her next career step, and has not decided for certain whether she will stay in television news. For now, she said, she intends to stay in the greater Baltimore area with her husband, a photojournalist who works at a Washington television station.

While Feger-Childers described her decision to quit as voluntary, neither she nor Berry, her former boss, would comment on her standing with executives at the E.W. Scripps Co., which owns the station.

During Feger-Childers' tenure, WMAR has transformed its look and changed many of the people who reported and presented the news. The station also forged an alliance with The Sun to draw upon accounts from the newspaper's reporters and critics. And, after years of declines in ratings, some of WMAR's newscasts gained a surge in audience share this fall.

"When I walked into that television station two years ago, I knew the people there were capable of producing a different product than what was on the air," Feger-Childers said yesterday. "I'm not about to take all the credit ... but we were able to make a lot of significant changes."

Berry said: "Staci was part of a big team responsible for making those changes." He said he would look nationally for a replacement, and called assistant news director Nancy Nydam a strong internal candidate for the job. Nydam had previously been a news director in Boston.

Personnel moves under Feger-Childers sent long-familiar faces packing. Anchors Stan Stovall and Mary Bubala, reporters Anna Marie Chwastiak, Mark Vernarelli and John Rosson, and weather forecaster Colette Kennedy were all dropped. Meanwhile, the station added reporter Janet Swanson, forecaster Dennis Ketterer and anchors Brian Wood, Denise Dory and Jo Ann Bauer. Morning news host Jamie Costello returned to WMAR, while anchor and reporter Vernon Shaw came and left during Feger-Childers' tenure. A new crime reporter is expected to join later this winter.

The feel of the newscasts shifted perceptibly, too. The station introduced slicker graphics packaging for its programs, emphasizing "ABC2" as a brand. WMAR turned to an unconventional setup of three anchors - Dory, Mary Beth Marsden and Wood - for the 11 p.m. news that worked more smoothly than some at the station had expected. And, as part of the greater partnership, Sun reporters and critics appeared on the air to discuss their articles.

The ratings of the station's news programs still lag far behind competitors on region leaders WJZ-TV and WBAL-TV, and often behind comparable shows on WBFF-TV and WNUV-TV.

In November, however, WMAR's ratings rose for its afternoon and early evening news shows by more than 20 percent compared with those from the same period a year earlier. Some of that likely derives from the station's aggressive promotion of its coverage of the sniper shootings in the suburbs surrounding Washington last fall. But station officials say they hope to build on that momentum.

Feger-Childers came to Baltimore from Buffalo, N.Y., and she has attained a degree of prominence within the profession. She was previously a board member of the Radio-Television News Directors Association, a leading professional group for broadcast news executives.

"I'm proud when I watch our product," she said. Now, she added, "I need to get back in touch with my life."

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