So today I saw in my newsfeed that Dean Littleton, the current General Manager at WATE is moving on up. He is joining HMGH in Denver, Colorado. Which is rapidly becoming known as "Little Knoxville" due to so many of our former newsroom talents moving there.
As most of you who read my blogs know, I often link up with various newsrooms and have multiple contacts with people currently and previously working in every newsroom. My job is information. I can assure you that this loss is huge. I look at just how far Dean has taken WATE. I remember when I first started working as a reporter on the streets five years ago and I guess I can give a little behind the scenes.
We were covering the Dogwood Arts kickoff and a new WATE reporter was starting either her first day or first week. She asked the reporters that were covering the event 'what advice do you have to give a new reporter in Knoxville?' The WBIR reporter looks at her and goes 'when you get your check, race to the bank and cash it. Seriously!" So before Dean came in WATE was a mess. Some dealing with corporate issues, and some internal. Dean has been able to bring an ultra high level of professionalism and respect back to WATE. I mean take the wildfires, for example, WATE had a weather station at the fires and they have a remote newsroom now! He also strengthened his weather team going to a team with a diverse mix of storm chasers with meteorology degrees (Trent and Ryan) as well as having an experienced team of rock solid credentialed meteorologists with Matt and Ken. So while other newsrooms are cutting back and hiring weather specialists, under the leadership of his news director, Jamie Foster (who is the best by the way) WATE has built a solid weather platform that is available and ready to go live 24/7 during any major storm. Especially with Facebook live.
If you have not noticed, WATE does not have an oven and kitchen segment that eats away at real news. A couple of weeks ago I was watching one local Knoxville TV station and they were talking about nail color and how to apply the perfect nail polish. Seriously, that is what the news in Knoxville has come too. However, Dean has and was able to keep WATE above that. Even in tightening budgetary times, WATE has gone after some serious hard news. WATE has been the go to newsroom for solid deep reporting. From a person level, I saw just how professional WATE is when I was involved in the reporting of NCrowd. Here is a local newsroom that went after an international story involving a local business located in the Sunsphere that left thousands of consumers losing money.
So now that Dean is gone, I strongly wonder if the next person that comes in will be able to keep the balance between a strong news team and a tightening advertising market.
I close with this thought. WATE employees and former employees respect Dean. People in the inner circle respect Dean. To give you a comparison of images from when I began to now. When I first began as a newspaper reporter, the reputation of WATE was "run and cash your check!" Now, it is an award-winning, international news chasing, critical life-saving media source of information during hazardous weather, that both the media community and the public respect and value.
Without Dean, my greatest fear is two things. One, he will grab top talent from Knoxville as he leaves. Two, without the professionalism and leadership from the top we have another newsroom in Knoxville that we nickname "The Frathouse" reporting live from the makeup counter with breaking news involving a new shade of red nail polish.
God help us all!