I first talked with Jim Blue in early 2010 for a piece I was writing about his former station, long-suffering WNWO-TV, Channel 24.
By then the veteran TV journalist was working at the Fox affiliate WFFT-TV in Fort Wayne as news director-anchor, having left WNWO in 2008 when his contract wasn't renewed.
Then I received a press release announcing the 60-year-old Blue's return to Channel 24 as its news director and 6 p.m. co-anchor, effective Jan. 21.
My first thought: Why? Why would he come back to this ratings-challenged "blackhole," as one of the station's former anchors called it?
"It allowed me to come back to Toledo and be with the woman I love," he said. When Blue left for Fort Wayne, his wife of nearly 32 years, Kay, a professor at Owens Community College, remained in their Toledo home. Accepting the WNWO job means no more weekend commutes for the couple.
Blue also told me that the WNWO opportunity was too good to pass up professionally; he'll oversee between 20-25 on and off-camera personnel, and a newsroom that station owner Barrington Broadcasting recently upgraded with a new set and equipment.
"A lot of good changes have been made here in terms of building the staff and enhancing the equipment and so forth," he said. "It isn't what it was, perhaps as recently as a year ago.
"The circumstances could not have been better."
The parade of former WNWO management who have come and gone in my nearly five years at The Blade might suggest otherwise.
Perhaps at one point, Blue would have been one of them.
He was an anchor at Channel 24 in May, 2004, when the station was first truly competitive in the ratings. He also was there a few months later when his veteran news director Lou Hebert was fired and the news department went tabloid journalism. And he was there for nearly four more years as viewers rejected the changes and tuned out the newscasts.
"I thought we had established a pretty successful approach," he told me in that 2010 interview. "It was disappointing to see things had changed and our ratings had declined."
Blue, though, isn't concerned about replicating that same formula for success from nearly a decade ago. Hebert tried that. He was brought back in early 2010 as a veteran presence — reporter, mentor, and de facto news director — for a younger staff and by May, 2011, was fired.
"Is doing good journalism a good thing? Yeah," Blue said. "But I can't repeat the past. I can simply build on what we have now."
What Blue is inheriting as news director remains a younger staff, one that was recently led by a rookie news director, Amulya Raghuveer, who opted "to take a more nontraditional approach" in covering and presenting the news. Stubbornly bleak newscast ratings under her leadership suggested audiences weren't fond of those changes either, and Raghuveer returned to her original position as the station's Internet managing editor. In the November Nielsen's, WNWO finished a distant third in all four of its newscasts; its 6 to 7 a.m. news failed to draw even enough viewers for Nielsen to measure for the ratings.
"I have not looked at the ratings — not currently," Blue said. "[But] history is the past and does not dictate the future. If it did there would be no point in trying to do anything, there would be no point in trying to improve things. I am optimistic that we can make positive changes here."
The key, he said, is to be given the time to institute his changes and the patience to see those improvements increase viewership. That's what he had at WFFT, where he successfully built, launched, and expanded the station's news operation.
"I started up a new operation there and ... last summer we were the No. 2 late local news in Fort Wayne," Blue said. "That's not bad to go from essentially having nothing — we were not just a zero, we were nonexistent — to having a late local news at No. 2.
"It's not what the ratings are here now that matter; ask me four years from now what the ratings are and it will matter to me."
Contact Kirk Baird at email@example.com or 419-724-6734. firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6734.
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