Kstw Turns Off Midday News

KSTW's midday newscast signed off yesterday - for good.

The station's general manager said low viewership prompted the cancellation of the half-hour newscast, which made its debut in May, 1990.

"We gave the show several chances," Kevin Hale said in a press release. "It's time to cut our losses." Hale refused to make any comment outside of those in the half-page prepared statement.

The decision to ax the midday news marks the latest - though not likely the last - turbulent development in the Channel 11 newsroom.

Monday, the union that represents TV reporters sent KSTW a letter announcing its plans to pursue legal action on behalf of several reporters recently fired by the Tacoma station. The union called the firings "arbitrary and capricious."

Little more than a week earlier, news director Mark Olinger told four reporters and two photographers that they would not be rehired when their contracts expired.

One of the fired Channel 11 staffers called newsroom morale "poisoned."

"Look at the statements Mr. Olinger has seen fit to give to the press and general public," said Tony Hazapis, executive director of the local American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. "He's calling all these reporters incompetent, lazy, . . . no-talent."

The fired reporters have said Olinger gave them no warning that their performance was sub-par, Hazapis said.

Hazapis said he also advised the reporters to seek outside

legal counsel "to determine whether there's also an issue of defamation here."

Olinger could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Since the mid-July staff slashing, Olinger has been slammed for what his critics call a less-than-forthright, heavy-handed style of management.

"He certainly had a propensity to be somewhat ballistic," recalled a colleague from KUSA-TV, the ABC affiliate in Denver where Olinger worked for several years as a producer. At KUSA, as at KSTW, Olinger often said a fired reporter or photographer was "blown up."

Olinger detonated veteran reporter Jerry Kemp in June, replacing him with former "Entertainment Tonight" reporter Al Owens. The second wave of firings included anchors Wendy Mann and Bill Oltman and reporters Diane Robinson and Heidi Chang.

Some KSTW insiders believed "11:30 Midday" - which ran a distant third in viewership to the noon newscasts on KIRO and KING - suffered from understaffing and too little promotion.

"We never let people know where or when it was," said one.

With no more midday news, anchor Mann has been reassigned to KSTW's Seattle bureau as field reporter. Weathercaster Larry Schick will pick up the added duty of environmental reporting.