WDRB's Bill Lamb: 'Everyone sees the Courier-Journal as vulnerable'
For the record, this is a media/business story, not a sports story.
(There are many, many things Insider Louisville does well, but sports is not one of them.)
Yesterday, we broke the news the Courier-Journal was in essence losing its sports franchise to WDRB 41, an event that likely will go down as a mile-marker on the CJ’s long road to mediocrity.
At WDRB, though, recruiting popular sports columnists Rick Bozich and Eric Crawford away from the CJ is a powerful statement of intent, with both strong in all areas of sports, from college basketball to thoroughbred racing.
Snagging Bozich and Crawford is a step toward making WDRB “not just stronger in sports (coverage), but stronger in everything,” Lamb said. “We decided to make WDRB the strongest station in the market, and this is another step down that road.”
Bozich and Crawford did not respond to emails and calls for comment. (Insiders at the Courier-Journal told Insider Louisville that sports accounts for the majority of traffic to the newspaper’s website.)
Lamb said the plan is for the sports duo to complete their obligations to the Courier-Journal over the next two weeks, then start at WDRB no later than early July.
“We’re not pushing it too hard,” he said. “They’ll have a home here when they’re ready, and we’re going to make sure they have a great start.”
WDRB will now have a five-person sports staff, up from three.
Asked about the genesis of the deal, Lamb acknowledged that WDRB executives approached Bozich and Crawford, anxious to bolster the station’s local, regional and national reporting. “I think everyone sees the Courier as vulnerable,” he said. “They were happy where they were, as far as I know. But we showed them what a good fit it could be,” jumping to television.
The Courier-Journal editorial staff has been decimated since 2008 through staff cuts and early retirements.
No one on the WDRB sports staff will leave to make room for Bozich and Crawford, Lamb said. Hiring them will allow WDRB to double up on coverage of the Big East Conference and University of Louisville sports, he said. In addition to air time, both writers will write daily columns for the WDRB website as well as use social media to cover sports.
“This is just a hypothetical,” Lamb said, “and we’re not planning to do this. But we could send them to the Belmont (Stakes in New York this weekend) and they could work with the sports anchor as well as be expert commentators.”
An executive at a rival station said, “Bill has said he wants to build an ESPN-level (web) site, and I guess he wasn’t kidding. But these are pretty tall salaries. Not just one salary, but two. Economics still plays a role in all this ….”
The executive and other sources noted that the hires come as WDRB is in the middle of a stand-off with Time Warner Cable, with WDRB wanting Time Warner to pay higher fees for retransmission of the station’s signal on cable.
“That will get resolved,” Lamb said.
Hiring Bozich and Crawford gives WDRB “what I think will be the strongest voices in local sports in terms of depth of knowledge about the topics they cover, a depth no one else will have,” said Louisville Internet news pioneer Rick Redding. “It’s so unusual for a local TV station to hire away the two local sports columnists from the newspaper.
The question becomes, “now what?” for the CJ, he added.
“Will the CJ be able to go out and hire one good sports columnist? You don’t go to the E-town paper and hire their best guy anymore,” Redding said.
He predicted Gannett executives will import someone from another market and expect them to learn local sports culture.
“If it were me, I’d find someone with a lot of local knowledge. Since there’s no clear delineation between print and TV anymore, I’d hire a TV guy. Kent Taylor at WAVE or Adam Lefko at WHAS are good.
“They need a strong voice in their sports department. ”