The heads up comes this afternoon from Cleveland Plain Dealer media columnist Julie Washington on Cleveland.com - WJW/8 "FOX 8" I-Team reporter Tom Merriman is leaving the now-Local TV-owned station to join a local law firm.
The move to Cleveland-based Landskroner, Grieco & Madden actually brings Merriman back to his law career roots, which he left behind in 1995 to join Scripps ABC affiliate WEWS/5 as an investigative reporter...before landing at WJW in 2001. The article says Merriman headed up the Ohio Attorney General's Cleveland office before moving to TV.
He tells the PD that he's covered the law firm as a reporter:
"They're great lawyers who do a lot of high-impact, public interest-oriented litigation. Now when people call me, I can not only tell their story, I can put on the gloves and fight for them in court. It's going to be a blast."
Merriman tells Washington that he turned down a one-year contract extension offered by the station last month.
And the PD item sheds more light on what we've reported here extensively - the exit, either voluntarily or involuntarily, of over two dozen FOX 8 employees connected to the sale of the station by the network which owned it until this year. Quoting the Washington piece:
Channel 8 lost about 25 people in the months surrounding its sale to Local TV in July, Merriman estimated. Some employees retired before the sale became final to take advantage of Fox's benefits package, he said.
Departures among the on-air staff included weekend anchor/reporter Dray Clark and reporters Gary Stromberg, John Damschroder, Angele Ringo and Gary Libertore.
Clark, by the way, is now working as a general assignment reporter at CBS O&O KYW/3 in his hometown of Philadelphia. We previously reported the departure of Damschroder, as WJW closed its Columbus bureau. Stromberg, a Cleveland TV news vet, retired in April.
Washington lists Ringo as an anchor at San Diego's ABC affiliate, and Libertore as a weekend anchor/reporter in Utica NY, his hometown.
And about the "Fox benefits package" line - it's no surprise to us, because we reported that before the Local TV sale was announced, company executives warned employees at South Marginal that the new owner's benefits package "may not be as robust" as that provided by FOX.
WJW VP/GM Greg Easterly says "not all" of those who left will be replaced.
Washington says Merriman felt "the station was not making a long-term commitment to the investigative team", and indeed, the other two members of his unit now have other primary assignments - Lorrie Taylor is a consumer reporter, and Bill Sheil is heading for the weekend anchor desk.
But Easterly calls the station's commitment to the I-Team concept "unwavering". He tells Washington that he expects Sheil, Taylor and other FOX 8 News reporters "to contribute investigative reports"...saying Sheil's new role will increase his visibility in investigating.
You'll still see Merriman on FOX 8 News for a while.
Washington reports that Merriman will stick around through the November sweeps, finish up some projects, and exit South Marginal on December 31st...and will join the law firm on January 1st...