Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Controversy Swirls Around WPIX Executive Producer After Threatening Email to Staff

Tuned In

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The media have grabbed hold of the Governor Christie “Bridgegate” coverage, which took off after an incriminating email from of his aides. But one media outlet is facing its own internal turmoil due to an email. 

WPIX morning executive producer Zev Shalev is facing harsh criticism from his underlings and higher ups.

WPIX morning executive producer Zev Shalev
Zev Shalev
Shalev, who joined Channel 11 in September, wrote an email last week to his morning group. In the email, which was obtained by Tuned In, Shalev sought story ideas from staffers for the February sweeps period. However, Shalev made it clear that everyone must participate or face consequences at their next review.
Needless to say, employees were upset. We’re hearing that many who received the email found the tone harassing and threatening. Here’s the entire message that Shalev sent:
Last year, I asked for sweeps submissions and got a total of 4!  As I mentioned, content submissions and pitches will be a big part of performance management this year (so it will impact your salary increases).Can I please have fully-formed week-long pitches or special events from EVERYONE who works on the content for the show (writers/producers/reporters/anchors) by the end of Friday.  Please submit at least 3. They need to be high quality, well thought out sweeps and stunts. Absolutely no exceptions. It will be too late when we are assessing your performance in the near future.

While news director Mark Effron was unavailable for comment, spokesperson Jessica Bellucci tells Tuned In, “An email was sent to the news staff regarding the station’s performance management process; however this process is not applicable to all who were on the email distribution list. When this was discovered, an apology was immediately issued.”

The immediacy came only after Shalev, a former CBS Early Show executive producer, was taken to task by the human resources department, a well-placed source confirms. A day later, PIX personnel found an “about-face” note in their inbox:
Yesterday, I sent out an email asking for February sweep ideas.  Thank you very much for your great submissions. There are some exciting ideas there. It has come to my attention that the performance management process and pay increases are not relevant to everyone on this list.  While pitching is an important part of the editorial team’s day to day responsibilities, the performance management process isn’t relevant to everyone, so I apologize if it was taken the wrong way by anyone who is part of a collective bargaining agreement and/or has individual contracts.
We’re told that several staffers contacted their respective unions saying they were being threatened. The on-air talent is covered by the Screen Actor's Guild American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAGAFTRA), while producers and writers are part of the Newspaper Guild.

Tuned In made several attempts to reach SAGAFTRA for a comment.

But, a number of others were willing to provide insight into the email flap.

“Effron allows his managers to escape responsibility for on-air mistakes, poor ratings, and mistreatment of employees,” one WPIX insider says. “Yet he never misses a chance to blame producers and talent.”

That talent and those producers have watched as the morning broadcast with Shalev at the helm has tanked. For example, on Tuesday the household rating was so low it registered hash marks. In the main demographic– adults 25-54– all a.m. dayparts were also literally off the charts— in a bad way.

Tuned In investigated whether Shalev’s style is standard operating procedure at other newsrooms in New York. We got a resounding no from a pair of industry insiders.

“I’ve never heard of a news boss threatening money on a special project. They really don’t have the authority. The GM pays you and he’s rarely a part of the day to day contracts.” The person adds, “If a news director hates your work enough to threaten to dock your pay, they’d just as soon can you.”
Another experienced “outsider” concurs.

“I find that a bit unnerving, leaving money at the subjective discretion of a supervisor who could be a different person than the boss who negotiated the contract. In general, threatening a contractual raise – or not giving it – is a station breach… I would certainly not like working for a place that would do that,” the source says.

An additional WPIX source says Shalev’s email represents a “harassment of the masses,” and points out that despite the apology, the damage is done.

“This problem will not go away until Zev goes away.”

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