Chappell's show: the recently dropped Ch. 33 anchor has her say
12/05/08 12:43 PM
By ED BARK
Terri Chappell didn't expect to be celebrating her 43rd birthday Friday as the former co-anchor of "The 33's" weekday 9 p.m. newscasts.
But that's her new reality in the ever-downsizing TV news business. And Chappell knows she's just one among many Americans who suddenly find themselves jobless. She got the news Tuesday from CW33 news director David Duitch, who arrived at the station in July and has been chopping away ever since.
"I think probably David Duitch came in with a mandate for change, which isn't easy for him either," Chappell said in a telephone interview Friday. "And it isn't easy for me, and it isn't fun. But I think you saw the unemployment numbers that just came out. So I guess I'm out there in a lot of good company. When you're the topper and one of the faces of the station, then you're at risk. And I always knew that."
Chappell spent 10 years anchoring and reporting at Ch. 33 before Duitch abruptly called it a day for her. The former WFAA8 news director hasn't responded to three telephone messages left at his office. That's a signal that other cutbacks are coming, and several sources at the station say that weekday weatherman Bob Goosmann is the highest profile staffer with his fate hanging in the balance.
Goosmann, who declined to comment for now at the advice of his agent, has been given the take-it-or-leave-it option of a 30 percent pay cut, a weekend weather shift and three days a week as a general assignment reporter.
Other staffers reportedly are facing the same sized salary cuts at a station where the news team lately is a bare bones collection of three anchors, one weatherman, four general assignment reporters and three sports guys. But it's always been a no-frills situation at Ch. 33, where the virtually unadorned news set is built in part with ceiling tiles and cabinet tops.
"I think the only thing that kept people going was we were doing our best with what we had," Chappell says. "I'm concerned when I see all of the people who are leaving the industry, either by choice or otherwise. It's stretched newsrooms very thin, and it's affected the overall coverage. So I think it's going to be a very bad year for journalism."
Former NBC5 meteorologist Rebecca Miller has been doing Ch. 33's weekend weathercasts of late, but says she's been told nothing about anything beyond that.
Macie Jepson, dropped earlier this year from WFAA8's anchor team, also is part of the rumor mill. Otherwise there's nothing concrete to report so far.
Ch. 33 anchor Tom Crespo, who had worked with Chappell since 2002, has a contract with the station that expires in February. His absence from Thursday's 9 p.m. newscast fuels speculation that he, too, might have a short-term future with the station. So It's not a happy place right now, even though Chappell says, "It's been an absolute honor to work there. Channel 33 was like a family to me. We went through a lot of things together."
Ch. 33, which carries The CW network's programming from 7 to 9 p.m. weeknights, is one of 24 television stations owned by Tribune Broadcasting, which became the private domain of outspoken Chicago billionaire Sam Zell in December, 2007. He's been shedding operating costs ever since.
When Duitch arrived at Ch. 33, he told his news anchors to "bring story ideas to the table, and I brought six to 10 to the table every day," Chappell says. "And it was fun getting back out in the field and reporting some of them. But I did sit down with David about three months ago and asked him, because I'm the sole supporter of our family right now, to please let me know if at any point he thought I might not be part of his future plans.
"So I was deeply disappointed at the way it was handled, as far as not letting me know sooner. I know budgets are tight, and maybe he needed to take immediate action."
Chappell and her husband, a Dallas native who hopes to get back into the restaurant business, have two sons, ages 3 and 6.
"So I'm going to be home playing a lot of Thomas Train," she says.
Chappell says she'll also be finishing work on five more "Child of Love" stories that were in various stages of development when Ch. 33 dropped her.
Almost 60 percent of the 210 children featured in the segments have been adopted since she started doing "Child of Love" in September 2005, Chappell says. "The economy has really been affecting the adoptions lately, so the word we're trying to get out is that you can adopt these children virtually free . . . These kids need another voice, and people need to be constantly reminded that they're out there."
Chappell otherwise is "kind of weighing my options right now. There are millions of other things I've wanted to do in my life, and I haven't had much time to do them. I don't know where I'm going from here. We're starting to pack up, but I'm not sure if we're moving from Dallas yet. We're not in debt, so we're sort of positioned to sit. I still love journalism, so I hope my next step is telling people stories in some way."
If not, that's life.
TV news "is a crazy business," she says. "But we all knew that going in."