In the spring of 1997, the Washington Post company appeared to be strengthening its presence in Hartford. The headquarters of its television division, Post-Newsweek stations, had been moved to Connecticut’s capital city to a vacant floor at WFSB-TV’s iconic Broadcast House in the shadow of the Travelers Tower. That floor was transformed from a huge storage area, into an upscale, wood-paneled, swank executive enclave befitting a media corporation. The Post was also investing in an empty adjacent building for studios for the syndicated Gayle King Show, set to debut that fall.
WFSB was one of the Washington Post’s top rated stations, and its call letters stood for the one-time chairman of the company, Frederick S. Beebe. It was a vital part of the company, which is one reason why the headquarters were coming here.
In May of ’97, WFSB was paid a visit by the legendary Katherine Graham, the trail blazing publisher of the Post who led the paper during the Watergate era. I had the great honor of being assigned to interview Mrs. Graham during her brief trip to Hartford.
I studied up on Graham and I thought the interview went very well. I remember she was also very interested in MY career, and she beamed with pride when I told her how proud I was to be under contract with a Post-Newsweek station. I also shared with this publishing titan that I was inspired to become a journalist by two of her best known reporters, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. Their book “All the President’s Men” made an indelible impression on me and to this day I never tire of watching the movie.
But the Graham visit on May 29th was not without controversy. One of our unions at WFSB was in the midst of a labor dispute with management, and picketed Graham’s stop at the historic Bushnell Theater, where she appeared with General Norman Schwartzkopf for a Connecticut Forum event on leadership. Inside WFSB, yes, the station Graham owned, another disgruntled employee replaced the cake in one of the men’s room urinals with a picture of the woman who had been so kind to me.
Three days later, WFSB employees got quite a shock. A station-wide meeting was called, that was touted as so important, my co-anchor Denise D’Ascenzo came in from maternity leave for it. We were stunned when it was announced the Washington Post company was selling us. It was a trade actually, involving cash and a station in Orlando. That Orlando station would later have its call letters changed to WKMG, in the honor of my interview subject.
How could this be? No one in the assembly that included Gayle, Mika Brzezinski and 150 others could believe it. Was it the protest? The photo in the john? We visualized Mrs. Graham leaving Hartford in an embarrassed huff ordering an underling to “get rid of that place!” Who knows what the actual reasons for selling us were.
It was an uncertain time, and I can certainly empathize with the employees of the Washington Post who are wondering what is next with new owner Jeff Bezos of Amazon fame. I’m sure they are saddened by the end of an era, as I was.
However, change can be good and I can’t say enough good things about our new owners, the Meredith Corporation, who have run Channel 3 for 16 years now. By the way, Post-Newsweek stations is not part of the Post Bezos deal and I should point out, I still have a vested interest in PN stations because I will get a pension from them someday.
Post-Newsweek kept its headquarters in Hartford for a few years after the sale, before moving them to Detroit.
You can watch my interview with Katherine Graham this Sunday morning at 11AM on Face the State.