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News director fired for using racial slur in newsroom

Sarah Zak, the news director for Nexstar's WAVY-TV, was dismissed after using a racial slur during an editorial meeting.

Sarah Zak, the news director for Nexstar's WAVY-TV, was dismissed after using a racial slur during an editorial meeting.

Sarah Zak, the former news director of WAVY-TV (pictured at WCPO-TV), appears in an undated photograph.
Sarah Zak, the former news director of WAVY-TV (pictured at WCPO-TV), appears in an undated photograph. (Photo via LinkedIn, Graphic by The Desk)

A Virginia news director has been fired after she used a racial slur while reading a court document during a newsroom meeting earlier this month.

The official, Sarah Zak, was dismissed at WAVY (Channel 10, NBC) in Norfolk less than two weeks after the incident, according to a person familiar with the matter who was not authorized to speak publicly on the issue.

Zak’s firing came at the request of executives at Nexstar Media Group, the owners of WAVY, the person said. Her dismissal was announced in a newsroom-wide memo that offered no explanation for her sudden firing.

The incident happened around February 10 during an editorial meeting with reporters, producers and other newsroom workers. The meeting eventually focused on an exclusive story about threats made toward a business in Portsmouth, a suburb of Norfolk. The threats, which included racial slurs, were also directed toward a police official in Portsmouth, the station reported.

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During the meeting, Zak read from a search warrant affidavit that was obtained by the station. The affidavit contained a number of profane words that Zak didn’t read, but she did read aloud a six-letter racial epithet that starts with “N,” the source affirmed.

The utterance of the word triggered a volley of complaints to the station’s human resources and general manager. Eventually, the complaints reached officials at Nexstar, who launched an investigation into the matter.

Zak offered an emotional apology to station officials and newsroom workers, according to a person who attended one of the meetings, and offered to undergo sensitivity training.

Nexstar officials ordered her dismissal this week, and her last day was Tuesday, the source said. A memo sent by the station’s general manager offered no information about Zak’s dismissal, but did confirm that she was no longer with the station.

In a social media conversation with The Desk, Zak characterized the account of what happened in the newsroom as “inaccurate” and “misleading,” but declined to provide specific information. She also said she expected this article about her dismissal to be removed. Her firing was first reported by the industry blog FTV Live.

Zak began her career at the E. W. Scripps Company, where she worked as an executive producer at WFTS (Channel 28, ABC) in Tampa from November 2006 to mid-2014. She joined Scripps’ Cincinnati ABC affiliate, WCPO (Channel 9), in June 2014, where she worked for four years before moving back to Florida for a news director role at WFTX (Channel 4, Fox) in Fort Myers.

She left Scripps to join Nexstar’s WAVY in November 2021, where she worked until being dismissed this week. While at WAVY, she helped build out the station’s Spanish-language broadcast “El Punto,” which published a variant of the station’s scoop on the threats in Portsmouth.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include a statement from Zak, and to clarify that the incident happened around February 10, not February 13.

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About the Author:

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys is a nationally-recognized, award-winning journalist who has covered the business of media, technology, radio and television for more than 10 years. He is the publisher of The Desk and contributes to Know Techie, Digital Content Next and StreamTV Insider. He previously worked for Thomson Reuters, the Walt Disney Company, McNaughton Newspapers and Tribune Broadcasting.
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