One of a kind

Budd McEntee is an old-school newsman.  For years, he had a portrait of Walter Cronkite on the wall of his corner office at WAGA.  He was passionate about being first with important stories.  He loved breaking news, which he believed had a crowd-pleasing quality for the audience.  He was devoted to overturning rocks and exposing secrets.  He was the most competitive guy I’ve ever known in the news business.

Budd McEntee

The WAGA news director abruptly announced his retirement Monday, effective four days later.  This comes on the heels of the similar departure of GM Gene McHugh several weeks earlier.

McEntee was one of the best newsmen I’d ever known.  He was also the worst boss I’ve ever had.

McEntee became news director in 1991.   McEntee added Good Day Atlanta, which became one of the station’s biggest moneymakers, meriting expansion to the five-plus hour morning block it occupies now.  When he started, WAGA had two and a half hours of news per day.  It now has ten.

With that, McEntee became a very busy man, increasingly immersed in what used to be called paperwork.  He kept sporadic track of the day-to-day doings of his newsroom, and became a guy who reacted mostly to whatever he disliked.  It made him an increasingly caustic presence.

McEntee was obsessed — and I think that’s the correct word — with WSB.  The competitor in him wanted to catch WSB in the ratings, but it never happened.   When WAGA and WSB had concurrent newscasts — as they do at noon, 5, 6 and 11 — monitors in WAGA’s newsroom typically were tuned to WSB.  Frequently, McEntee and his managers knew WSB’s content better than the content on their own station.

McEntee wanted to out-cover WSB on big stories, and wanted whip WSB with important scoops.  Frequently, his staff succeeded.  Just as frequently, WSB succeeded.  Much of that is a function of a key fact that McEntee couldn’t overcome:  WSB is a large-budget operation.  WAGA’s web site lists 17 general assignment reporters.  WSB’s site lists 25, giving it almost fifty percent more firepower on day-to-day news.  WSB has state-of-the-art equipment, and more of it than anybody else in Atlanta.

Richard Elliott with Crawford Lewis

Yet when WAGA got beaten on a big story — as happened in March, when WSB’s Jodie Fleischer got a jump on the indictment of DeKalb School Superintendent Crawford Lewis — McEntee had a tendency to come unglued.  That night, after seeing Fleischer and Richard Elliott with elements his station lacked, McEntee ordered dayside staff to work double shifts.   There was no journalistic reason to do it.  McEntee did it because he was angry.

There are similar stories that are too numerous to count, incidents that went well beyond a manager’s legitimate interest in holding his staff accountable.  When competitive issues arose that were systemic or managerial or just plain dumb luck, McEntee regularly responded by irrationally punishing the staff.

I can’t help but compare him to Ellen Crooke at WXIA.  She has a newsroom full of reporters who would happily jump off a cliff for her.  McEntee may have had some of that devotion in his earliest years as news director, but it didn’t last long.

Morale at WAGA stayed in the dumps during the last ten years of his tenure, and deteriorated with each successive year.  McEntee hired a lot of talented people, but then drove many of them away from the TV news industry.  It’s an unfortunate part of his legacy.

WAGA GM Bill Schneider, with Budd McEntee 9.27.10

McEntee deserves credit for keeping WAGA competitive while the WSB juggernaut gained strength (and continues to do so, now that its alliance with the AJC is official and active).  McEntee’s protection of  WAGA’s investigative unit, at a time when bean-counters wanted to slash costs, showed his solid journalistic (and marketing) instincts.  The I-Team is assuredly taking McEntee’s departure with a great deal of unease.

But not so the rest of the staff, one of whom e-mailed me to say s/he was “looking forward to work today for the first time in… years.”

McEntee had a human quality that he seemed to increasingly suppress.  I’ve seen him do many kind and generous things.  Word has been that he and McHugh are gone, in part, because they resisted Fox’s desire to cut staff.   Yet most of the staff will remember him as a bully who took the satisfaction journalists get from their profession, and wrung it dry.

TV news already faces plenty of challenges that threaten its very survival.  If it’s going to succeed, it will need personnel who are motivated by something more than a paycheck.  One can only hope Budd McEntee was a one-of-a-kind leader.  He was great at journalism.   He was pretty lousy with journalists.

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About live apt fire

Doug Richards is a reporter at WXIA-TV. This is his personal blog. WXIA-TV has nothing whatsoever to do with this blog, under any circumstances, in any form. For anything written herein, Doug accepts sole credit and full blame. Follow him on Twitter: @richardsdoug. All rights reserved. Thanks for visiting.

15 thoughts on “One of a kind

  1. Been There

    Working for Budds arch rival, WSB it always gave me great pleasure in Kicking WAGA ‘S butt only to find out how explosive Budd could be to his staff. I’ve heard of many tantrums over the years through his staff, how he would scream and yell out at them and even go so far as to belittle them. I was told the staff was horrified by his actions. Just goes to show, one screaming and yelling at your people will only seperate you faster from them, in disgust. I hope this is a new beginning for the employees that are still left after Budds departing . Now you will only have to worry will you get one better or worse. My Prayers are with you that you will get someone that will really value your work better than Budd did. Budd now you can have a BUD and recall how many people really liked you. And if you don’t like the results………..SCREAM AT YOUR OWN DAMNED SELF! Lets see how far that gets you?

    Reply
  2. Jan Tadeo

    I think you’re being too kind to him. Because he was a screamer (and extremely rude), he hired executive producers and producers cut from the same cloth. I remember having a very competent evening producer who wasn’t promoted because he was thoughtful and took his crew aside to tell them if they’d made a mistake. I went from loving TV news, to counting the days I could get out of that newsroom.

    Reply
  3. Mr. Bear

    An old newspaper reporter described working for the paper as “I go in to work and the monster comes and takes another bite out of me. One day, there’s not going to be anything left to eat.” Fortunately, times change.

    Reply
  4. jimmy john

    You guys are brutal. I never worked for the guy, but you have to give him credit as a good tv person who kn ows how to tell a story.

    OK, maybe it was brutal. But give him some kudoos. Heck he was an ND for more than 15 years – and absolute rarity in this biz.

    Reply
  5. Bill Hartman

    I did work for the guy and he did a lot of good things at WAGA. Wasn’t perfect but in the eyes of the workers, few news directors are. What Budd did do is last for 20 years in a major market which may be a record. He never caught WSB but he stayed ahead of the other guys consistently.

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  6. Larsen E. Whipsnade

    Sorry…I don’t care how good of a news director he was. In my value system, cruel treatment of employees under you negates any credit for being a good news director. People only behave that way because they are either mentally disturbed or have substantial self esteem problems. And they only get away with it because they are the boss. In any other sandbox, someone’s big brother would have punched your lights out and told you to be nice to people. Get a counselor, Budd. You need it.

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  7. Mrs. LAF

    As the spouse that heard a few stories of this guy after a dinnertime “How was your day at work, honey?”. I can’t help but hear the Munchkins singing “Ding Dong The Witch is Dead” in my head as I read this. But on the positive side, if it weren’t for him helping drive him off, the hubby wouldn’t be happy where he is now. So for that, I thank you Budd.

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  8. Mr. Bear

    In my time, I’ve worked for two individuals whose title should have been “His Satanic Majesty”. It was demanding, but also these jobs were in legitimately hazardous environments where one person’s screw up could injure or kill others. I’ve made my peace with the fact that these individuals led by fear because of the incredible responsibilities that they had taken on.

    I’m less willing to describe the news room as such an environment. Moreover, you have to wonder if the McEntee management model would even work with the products of today’s classrooms, where seldom is heard a discouraging word.

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  9. ALTOR

    I worked in the building with this overgrown schoolyard bully for over 20 years. Trust me, Doug is being very kind. That WAGA has been as successful as it has under his “leadership” is not because of him, but rather, in spite of him. Most thought he would get the boot when FOX bought the station in the ’90s. Unfortunately, it turned out his management style was pretty much in line with that of FOX. Anywhere else, he’d never have lasted, he’d never have gotten away with his spoiled 2-year old-like behavior and lack of results. Yes, lack of results. WAGA was #2 when he took over as News Director. It is still #2 nearly TWENTY YEARS later. Most of the problems that the newsroom had when he took over are still there. Why? I can only think of three reasons: He either lacked the ability, the desire, or the balls to do anything about it. So tell me, just what the hell good did he do? He routinely made female reporters, producers, writers etc cry. He kicked filing cabinets and garbage cans and screamed a lot. He called people “shit for brains.” He drove many good and talented people to competing stations, and worse, totally out of the business. What a legacy. Good riddance Budd. Should have happened 20 years ago.

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  10. Anna M.

    I never worked at WAGA but I know that news directors follow the style of their general managers. Gene McHugh must have encouraged his awful behavior.

    Reply
  11. Larsen E. Whipsnade

    Did you catch Dick Williams on the Georgia Gang this morning? Waxing poetic about how ‘ol Budd had lasted 20 years at WAGA in an era when other TV news directors lasted an average of 2. And I thought Dick didn’t like ruthless dictators?

    Reply
  12. Mike Daly

    Look, I worked for the best News Director ever. He was almost a father figure, but mostly a good boss. He knew when to put his foot down and how to treat people with respect. He had to raise his voice only a few times when I knew him. He promoted hard workers and gave a few second chances to some who needed a break. He sent many reporters on their way…to places like the networks and larger markets because he had groomed their talent.
    Andy Still was a godsend to me and others when I worked at WYFF TV in Greenville, SC. News 4…Your friend Four. AKA – that market 35 station that sweeps Emmys away from the Atlanta stations every year. #1 in their market.

    Reply
  13. No More TV

    Who actually carries a BASEBALL BAT around the newsroom. I kid you not. How many times did I want to scream, “Get the hell out of the control room and let me get this crap on the air!”. Coming from that angle I cannot tell you how much garbage we put on air to be first. Reporters were unprepared, live shots not ready, choppers not on scene, studio not ready – for no other reason than to report something nobody had reason to care about. His methods are outdated, his product never that good, and his character, at best, flawed. And personally, among the best examples of a truly horrible personality.

    Reply

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