Journalists at a Michigan television station who were told earlier this week to ease up on their coverage of LGBT-related matters say they are largely ignoring the directive.
Producers and reporters at Grand Rapids NBC affiliate WOOD-TV (Channel 8) also say they are upset with their news director, Stanton Tang, after he admitted during a staff meeting that he ordered his assistant news director, Amy Fox, to write and distribute the memo.
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The memo, circulated among newsroom employees on Tuesday, said recent coverage of Pride Month parades and similar events were upsetting Conservative viewers who comprise much of WOOD-TV’s audience.
“We know that West Michigan is a Conservative area in many ways,” the memo said, according to a copy obtained by The Desk. “We need to recognize that some stories related to LGBTQ issues are going to be controversial and polarizing in our community. While you personally may not agree with a certain position, people are entitled to their opinions, and they are our viewers.”
Fox went on to write that the station wasn’t able to cover “every event or festival that happens in West Michigan” due to a lack of resources, and that “we should not cover every Pride event that we learn about.”
“We need to do some work to discern the newsworthy-ness of the event,” she continued. “If we are covering Pride events, we need to consider how to make the story balanced and get both sides of the issue.”
The directive was met with swift backlash inside the WOOD-TV newsroom, with some producers staging a brief walkout in protest, according to a station employee who spoke with The Desk on condition of anonymity Thursday.
After the memo became public knowledge, Tang held a staff meeting where he revealed the memo written by Fox was at his urging, two sources said.
The admission upset a number of people, who immediately contacted the human relations department at WOOD-TV’s parent company, Nexstar Media Group. Nexstar has since ordered Fox and Tang to not participate in any planning meetings or discussions about the station’s coverage involving Pride Month celebrations or LGBT matters while an internal investigation is carried out.
“The memo was met with immediate pushback from our newsroom; the guidance is not being followed,” Luke Stier, an executive producer at WOOD-TV, wrote in a post on the social media platform Twitter. “The only two people involved in its creation have been removed from any discussions surrounding WOOD-TV’s Pride coverage as our corporation conducts a thorough investigation.”
News producer Kyle McIlmurray said the memo set the stage for “an awfully difficult week for our newsroom.”
“The silver lining in this mess is that our staff is united in pushing back on this ridiculous and hurtful memo that was sent out,” McIlmurray wrote on Twitter.
On Thursday, Nexstar Chief Communications Officer Gary Weitman penned a note to employees in which he reaffirmed the company’s commitment to diversity, equality and inclusion.
“Our local TV stations are expected to cover and report the news of the day in an expansive and inclusive fashion, consistent with these values,” Weitman wrote, according to a copy of the memo obtained by The Desk. “We’re looking into the situation at WOOD-TV, as the communication regarding the station’s coverage of Pride Month activities in the area is not consistent with Nexstar’s values, the way we cover the news, or the respect we have for our viewers. We will take appropriate action as necessary to address this situation, and apologize for offending members of the LGBTQ community and WOOD-TV’s viewers.”
Fox and Tang did not respond to numerous requests for comment, nor did anyone at Nexstar. Despite some social media posts from a few newsroom workers, station employees have been asked not to speak publicly about the matter while the investigation continues.
The bulk of the newsroom’s anger appears to be directed at Tang, whom employees feel is allowing Fox to take the fall for his directive. Until this week, both news executives had a relatively unblemished name and were well-respected within their station and by industry peers throughout the region. Now, there are a lot of hurt feelings to go around.
Some journalists say Tang’s directive was particularly short-sighted and showed a lack of judgment, which was surprising given his tenure in the television news industry. He began his career as a producer for Phoenix CBS station KPNX (Channel 5) in 1988, where he began his climb up the newsroom ladder. Stops in Sacramento (KCRA, Channel 3, NBC) and Las Vegas (KLAS, Channel 8, CBS) helped him refine his approach until he moved to the Grand Rapids market and ABC affiliate WZZM (Channel 13).
Tang spent five years as the news director of WZZM, where he got to know the lay of the land and learn more about the mostly-conservative viewers who tune in from the fringe reaches of the market. He left Grand Rapids to take a similar job at KOLO-TV (Channel 8), the CBS affiliate in Reno, before returning to Grand Rapids and WOOD-TV in late 2021.