At News 12, Accusations Of Toxicity And Brand Erosion Widen
In June, TVNewsCheck reported that toxic working conditions inside News 12 New Jersey, one of seven Tri-State area cable news channels in Altice USA’s News 12 network, compelled the bulk of the station’s editorial team to resign in close succession.
After investigating the allegations of employee mistreatment outlined in the article, Altice fired the station group’s general manager, Jacques Natz. However, a bigger picture of network-wide malfeasance, which has not only inspired dozens more departures, but compromised News 12’s hyperlocal value proposition — in markets with no shortage of impactful stories — has emerged.
Fourteen former and current employees from three additional News 12 markets tell TVNewsCheck the workplace culture in newsrooms throughout the company had become unbearably noxious under the problematic leadership of Natz, Assistant GM and VP of News Audrey Gruber and other managers hired by Altice. Like the individuals who spoke to TVNewsCheck about the News 12 New Jersey newsroom, these sources have opted to remain anonymous, some on background, partly out of fear that Altice, Natz and/or Gruber will retaliate with lawsuits or other actions that could threaten future career opportunities.
They say News 12 has become a brand that consumers can no longer rely on for the community-focused coverage that was its hallmark for decades. These sources also say employee safety has been compromised across News 12, and they liken their work experience at the company to that of a traumatic event. Sources say Altice’s sole focus on profits has been to the detriment of both its workforce and its brand.
“It wasn’t about us,” one former News 12 newsroom employee says. “It was about how much money we can make.”
Those who’ve earned the highest salaries at News 12, after accruing lengthy track records of quality work and trust in the markets they serve, have borne the brunt of toxic management in recent years, sources say. They surmise that Altice wishes to see such workers leave the company permanently so they can be replaced by inexperienced, inexpensive personnel.
Commenting on News 12 upper management’s treatment of its employees over the past several years, another former staffer says, “Cruelty was the point.”
Different Times Under Dolan
Managers like Natz, Gruber and other hires made by Altice, according to multiple sources, are largely to blame for the exits of roughly 80 employees from the network’s various editorial teams since Altice acquired News 12 as part of its 2016 purchase of Cablevision from the Dolan family. (Multiple former newsroom employees estimated that number of departures; one maintained a rolling list of names that reached 74 and shared it with TVNewsCheck.) Network veterans paint a far more idyllic picture of work life at News 12 under the leadership of Patrick Dolan, who co-founded News 12 and served as its president for 30 years.
“Pat was really great to us,” says one former employee. “I was given a chance to grow. I learned everything I needed in the News 12 newsroom.”
Words like “respect” and “trust” are tossed around with regularity in descriptions of the News 12 newsroom culture under the previous regime. Safety was of high concern, as well as news integrity, sources say. They feel the newsrooms were inclusive and collaboration was also encouraged when Dolan was in charge. And while the staffers may not have become “rich” working for the regional news network, they say they were fairly compensated by Dolan, a leader who they say proverbially had his workers’ backs.
“I loved my job, I loved going to work every day,” says another former newsroom staffer. “Of course, you had pressures and deadlines, the typical stuff, but it was great.”
Not long after Altice took over News 12 in 2016, however, according to multiple sources Dolan was demoted from his position as president of News 12 Networks. He remained a “senior network advisor” for some months afterward, but was forced to move out of his office in the Long Island newsroom into a tiny corner space located in an administrative wing of the grounds. Sources say the whole affair was demoralizing for Dolan.
Then, one weekend in 2018, sources say Dolan and his secretary cleaned out his office of personal belongings, fearing Altice would soon permanently lock him out of the Long Island headquarters. A few days later, he and his family sued the company, claiming in court filings that Altice had breached its sales agreement by laying off a large number of workers. This act and others meant that Altice had failed to maintain the “legacy and quality” of News 12, according to the Dolan complaint. (A 1992 book, The Future of News: Television, Newspapers, Wire Services, Newsmagazines, called News 12 “clearly the most ambitious local news service” in the industry at the time, citing its robust staff and comprehensive coverage.)
Though Dolan remained on the Altice payroll for a time, he never returned to a News 12 newsroom. He was let go by the company a few months later, and the lawsuit was settled in 2019. Publicly, Dolan said he was “satisfied” with the settlement’s terms, as it provided job security to News 12 staffers, mandated a minimum amount of in-depth reporting and ensured the network would maintain a “hyperlocal” focus.
Dolan issued a statement to TVNewsCheck when told of the News 12 worker dissatisfaction outlined in this story and the departures that have resulted from their alleged mistreatment by upper management:
“It’s saddening to see the stream of seasoned, award-winning journalists and professionals who’ve been leaving News 12, apparently under stress from corporate management,” his statement reads. “These are people who truly know the communities they cover. They are proven performers, passionate and knowledgeable. Their loss is a setback for the News 12 audience.”
New Era Under Natz
In May 2020, less than a year after the settlement between the Dolans and Altice, Natz was hired as News 12’s general manager. Initially, some in the company retained an open mind toward Natz’s ideas, observing that anytime there’s management turnover, change is a certainty. But after a few months, employees began to see what they call “the writing on the wall.”
The effect of Natz’s “draconian” changes, as one former staffer calls them, made life difficult for News 12 personnel, particularly the old guard who commanded the highest salaries because, sources speculate, Altice harbored a desire to save money on staff salary cuts. But because Altice had already been sued once for large staff layoffs, sources say the company is instead forcing pricey personnel to leave of their own volition through unfair, harsh treatment. Sources also believe the company’s upper management purposely includes trumped up charges of poor performance in employee reviews to make cases for their firings, keeping Altice in compliance with the Dolan sales agreement.
Ground zero for this initiative was the News 12 Long Island newsroom.
“We were the flagship,” says one former Long Island newsroom employee, “and they definitely wanted to make sure that we knew that we were no longer the flagship, that we were just another cog in the machine that was Altice.”
Sources say reporters were taken off their beats and relegated to latenight traffic accident coverage. Evening anchors were removed from their desks to become morning reporters or weekend anchors. Resources were pulled and staffers were increasingly worn thin, taking on additional roles — producers picked up cameras and started shooting, for example. New hires were not provided sufficient training, sources say, which forced more experienced staffers to pick up the slack. All of these changes eroded morale throughout the company’s newsrooms, sources say.
When the micromanaging took hold, everything from on-air performance to edits to employee social media posts and beyond were dramatically scrutinized. Groups of managers would analyze a broadcast so closely that afterward they’d time a cold opening with a stopwatch and count the number of stories crunched into a show.
“People at home don’t give a shit how long my cold open is,” says one former newsroom staffer. “They’re not counting the stories in my A-block. They want stories that matter to them.”
Sources acknowledge that newsroom workers should always strive to improve their craft and are well-served by turning to quality senior leadership for guidance on how to get better at their respective jobs. However, they claim Natz — who many say is not a “newsman” — made a habit of calling people out on their shortcomings with public shows of frustration that ascended to levels of open disrespect.
One veteran media industry executive in the New York Metropolitan area, however, says that Altice making changes to News 12 to spur revenue growth is not surprising. The source, who asked to remain anonymous so they could speak freely, says micromanaging can sometimes elevate a brand.
“When your ass is on the line because you’re in charge of these multi-, multi-million-dollar assets, you sometimes have to get down in the weeds, especially if you’re trying to move a ship that’s been going one way for years,” the source says, noting they are also in touch with a few News 12 employees who are “having the times of their lives” working for the network.
A Pivotal Event
Though it was once an estimable product for News 12, in-depth reporting became increasingly endangered in recent years, sources say. Leadership instead wanted stories rife with shock value that would garner web clicks, and they inadvertently got one on May 14, 2020. That day, reporter Kevin Vesey covered a Long Island protest of state-issued mask mandates during the initial spread of COVID-19.
In his story, Vesey first describes the scene at the rally and the protesters’ motivations for being there. Halfway through the segment, Vesey fixes his camera on himself as unmasked protesters invade his personal space and shout at him — a scenario familiar to many journalists.
Though Vesey discusses the confrontations for only 20 seconds in his two-minute piece, sources say management latched on to that portion of the story and instructed the staff to promote the incident. Accompanying web copy and station tweets spotlighted the threat against Vesey, not the protest.
The journalist had become the story.
Several follow-up segments on the Vesey episode were ordered up by management and, later, more stories about Vesey’s personal experiences turned up on newscasts, too. As Vesey’s presence in front of the camera grew, some News 12 employees wondered, “Is this news?”
(Sources for this story see Vesey as “a team player” who, throughout, was simply following assignment orders from management. Vesey did not answer interview requests from TVNewsCheck.)
When then-President Donald Trump tweeted support for the protesters’ harassment of Vesey, even more attention was directed to the reporter, dragging the story out further for News 12.
“With respect to the Kevin Vesey rally story, that was a big deal within the [Long Island] station for two reasons,” says one former employee. “One, because the safety of the reporter was disregarded and, two, because News 12 was so quick to monetize itself as the story. That story was spread internationally so we could capitalize on it.”
Current and former News 12 staffers say that elevating the journalist’s experience above the news item he was sent to cover stoked fear among them. They worried that, like Vesey, they would also become public targets of vitriol and, potentially, violence.
Some say that there was indeed an uptick in threats against News 12 journalists in the aftermath of the Vesey protest report. The threats occurred in public and on social media.
Employees discussed their safety concerns with management and asked for additional security measures to be put in place for their protection. But security costs had been slashed in prior budgets, according to sources, and it required multiple requests from some employees before guards were assigned to field crews.
Initially, management responded with an email to News 12 staffers, obtained by TVNewsCheck, instructing employees not to engage with hecklers on social media and to alert Altice security if they felt physically threatened. However, the email also told personnel to “share our News 12 links covering the situation Kevin [Vesey] endured to show facts and what actually happened.”
Sources close to the situation, who tried to convey to management that leveraging Vesey’s reporting experience also put employees at greater risk, say the memo communicated to them that worker safety was not of top priority at News 12. Brand exposure had become paramount.
Less than three weeks after the Vesey incident, freelance reporter Darius Radzius, who sometimes worked for News 12, said he was attacked in Brooklyn while covering protests that erupted after the death of George Floyd. An unidentified person, Radzius said, called him a “snitch” and threw an unknown object at his head. He required multiple stitches in his face.
Though Radzius was reporting for the all-news WINS-AM New York at the time, the assault hit close to home for News 12 workers. In addition to the Vesey conflict, it reminded staffers of how dangerous their work can become, without warning and in an instant. Out of concerns they’d be targeted, workers removed branding decals from News 12 vehicles or covered them up while on assignment, against station wishes.
“The Kevin Vesey situation was scary,” says a former staffer. “The focus definitely seemed to be on attention, and not our well-being. We come to work to tell stories, not to become the story. The response to Vesey’s scenario told our viewing audience we accepted the confrontation. After that, I stopped telling people where I worked and stopped wearing my News 12 gear in public.”
Eroding The Hyperlocal Value Proposition
Like in New Jersey, staffers in other News 12 newsrooms have also been disheartened by an increased amount of sponsored content at their channels, as well as anodyne, non-market-specific stories. A spate of new series drummed up by former GM Natz, covering local attractions and businesses, consumer tips, do gooders and other subjects, were nearly devoid of news value, sources say. Airing those segments has meant less time for the kind of impactful, individual market-focused stories that they replaced.
Popular, long-running series — such as the tech-focused The Download and the Long Island high school sports show The Sports Rush, among others — were canceled because of a lack of sponsorship opportunities, sources say they were told. Conspicuous ads were increasingly embedded into newscasts. One particular piece of sponsored content from 2019 that staffers found in poor taste revolved around Jon Steinberg, CEO of Cheddar, a News 12 sister news brand, delivering Dunkin’ Donuts to a News 12 set. It promoted two brands in a single spot, and one source says content like that was “corny and it delegitimized us.” The source thought to themself at the time, “Are we journalists or shills?”
“Whether it’s sponsored or not, it’s supposed to be generic enough that it can air” network-wide, a source says. This person laments that, when such content is included in a hyperlocal news broadcast, “the more you water it down, the more useless it is.”
Some sources observe that there is a place for sponsored content and ads in news broadcasts. It’s part of how companies pay employee salaries.
But one source asks, “Does it need to be multiple spots in every show or airing every hour?”
Even daily news stories had to be pitched to management with a convincing projection that they’d garner News 12 website clicks, sources say, helping to inspire new advertisers.
“At editorial meetings, every reporter was told that stories need to be thought of in terms of how to monetize them versus impact on the community,” says one source. “[Natz] said in several meetings that if we couldn’t monetize a story, it wasn’t worth doing.”
Of course, sponsored content has become a commonplace for local TV news in the past decade. The same veteran media executive who posits that staffers’ micromanagement concerns may be misplaced is also skeptical of criticisms that sponsored content is being overused at the group.
“The question, like with everything else, is always in the implementation,” the source says. “Do I do it honestly, fairly and objectively for my viewers or am I trying to put something over them?”
The insider also says, from their perspective, the News 12 brand does not appear to have fallen out of favor in the industry or with viewers.
Other voices outside the company are mixed in their criticism. Discussing the News 12 programming changes, one anonymous media buyer supports the staffers’ complaints. They say the station group has clearly deprioritized local stories in favor of sponsored content and generic, general interest segments produced for all seven News 12 markets in the Tri-State area. But two other media buyers say, regardless of the new programming approach, they’ve heard no negativity about News 12’s reputation with advertisers since the changes began.
One former News 12 newsroom employee says the networks’ broadcasts do look “pretty good in a lot of respects,” observing that “some talented people still work there.”
However, the same source, who retains relationships with former News 12 colleagues, adds: “The most frequent complaint I hear is that it’s lost some of its ‘hyperlocal’ focus, [which is] the concept that made News 12 wildly popular. To the extent you move away from that I think a lot of people would say it weakens the service.”
On Long Island, sources say upper management believes it can take the News 12 content in any direction it wishes because there isn’t another hyperlocal-branded offering in the area. One former Long Island employee says, “We were told [by upper-level managers] several times, ‘Look, we’re the only product on Long Island; people are gonna watch us no matter what.’”
Many viewers in Long Island and other News 12 markets have soured on the channels, sources say. They’ve noticed a dearth of hard-hitting stories and a rise in irrelevant content. Instead of hyperlocal news, consumers of News 12 today see, as a former staffer describes it, “fluff.” They’re watching more “entertainment” than news, sources say, and consumers often take to social media to vent their frustration with the brand.
In a comment next to a recent Facebook post of a story by former News 12 reporter Eileen Lehpamer, who’s moved to WPIX in New York, one user also called News 12 stories “fluff.”
Underneath another recent Facebook post from News 12 Long Island, which reported that police were searching for a woman who stole from a supermarket, users skewered the station for shaming someone they believed in desperate need of food. “Don’t you guys have more serious crimes to report than humiliating this woman?” read one comment. “News 12 Long Island, do better and delete this.”
Another Facebook user wrote: “You have nothing serious to report other than a woman who is probably stealing food to feed her kids?! When is news 12 finally going to be taken off the air.”
When a group of on-air talent left News 12 Long Island in January, multiple Facebook users criticized the channel and its parent company for a decline in quality, and after News 12 Long Island recently posted an image on Instagram promoting a story about “energy reducing tips,” one user commented with a tip of their own: “don’t believe anything #new12 spews [sic].”
Last month, News 12 Long Island produced a story about two dresses that were returned to their owner after she lost them on a local train. In comments underneath a News 12 Facebook post promoting the story, a platform user posted a link to an article from another Long Island news source about four people who were arrested for illegal gun possession. Referring to a Long Island neighborhood composed largely of low-income earners, the commenter wrote, “This is what people in Roosevelt have to deal with. But you don’t care.”
Multiple sources say that comments like these are rampant on social media and have been for the past few years since the Altice takeover.
“I stopped looking at the Facebook page; I stopped looking at the comments,” says one former staffer. “[Management] had us, for a while, digging through our comments on Twitter and Facebook for Tagboard, this social media integration tool that they had us using for the shows, and it became real difficult to find usable comments.”
They were all negative, the source adds. “It was just people tearing [us] apart.”
According to Altice, consumers are responding positively to the new News 12. Ratings for the stations have risen, a company spokesperson told TVNewsCheck, including record highs during the pandemic and even more recently as coverage has “normalized.” While “aggregate ratings of comparable broadcast affiliates and 24-hour news channels fell by double digits,” the last three years, the rep adds, News 12 ratings have climbed by 8%.
The company says, today, News 12 reaches 4.1 million households, which is a 20% increase since Altice purchased the network six years ago. Select News 12 newsrooms have also recently expanded the areas they cover, according to Altice. The company also points out that it recently partnered with Charter to offer News 12 to Spectrum customers and with Verizon to bring News 12 to Fios customers.
The latter partnership, however, came about in 2019 when Verizon shuttered primary News 12 competitor Fios1 News, which was available on Verizon’s cable services, while Optimum carried the Altice asset. The “stunning” agreement between rivals drew “howls of protest” from area politicians, wrote the USA Today local news site lohud. They were upset about the loss of jobs and the detrimental impact such a lack of diverse voices could have on free press and democracy. A Westchester Assemblyman, Tom Abinanti, even drew up legislation requiring cable providers to each produce hyperlocal coverage as part of its licensing agreement with New York State.
Altice says it has also invested in News 12 digital platforms, including its website and mobile apps, as well as the News 12 New York streaming channel, which launched in 2020. “Video consumption of the network is growing by more than 800% year over year,” the company says.
Nielsen ratings data obtained by TVNewsCheck reveals that overall viewership of the News 12+ streaming channel collective, which includes five markets, has grown between 2020 and 2022. Though there was a dip last year, the average daily impressions in the 18-plus demographic across the weeks between April 28 and May 25 of this year rose to 709,000, up from 679,000 two years ago. Daily impressions in the 25-54 demographic in those same time ranges also climbed to 208,000 from 172,000. The average daily number of impressions in terms of total households that watched News 12+, across the same stretches, also went up, from 591,000 in 2020 to 623,00 in 2022.
However, News 12+ consumption strictly between 8 and 11 p.m. have dipped in the past two years. Total household impressions across those three hours, during the weeks between April 28 and May 25 in 2020, sat at 492,000. This past year, the number hit 470,000.
The number of News 12 distribution channels and brand exposure may have broadened of late, but the integrity of the organization’s reported content has been called into question by current and former employees. This is particularly the case when it comes to weather forecasting.
Multiple sources express dismay over leadership’s insistence that meteorologists play up weather events to sound overtly threatening when they are not. Even minor chances of rain have fallen under the purview of the channel’s “Storm Watchers,” network weather forecasts whose branding on air and across digital channels include what sources say are hyperbolic graphics and animations intended to flag severe weather even when there is none.
One day late last year, a meteorologist commented to another staffer that there was no reason News 12 should announce it’s in “Storm Watch” mode. Other news sources in the area forecast “a bit of morning rain” and “brief precipitation,” with clearing in the afternoon. However, across News 12 platforms emerged the “Storm Watcher” logo with a lightning bolt piercing through the middle of the team branding, suggesting a major weather event was on the horizon.
Such occurrences have become typical in News 12 newsrooms, according to sources. They also say News 12 meteorologists pleaded with Natz, Gruber and other managers in past years to allow them to return to weather forecasts with a more fact-based approach. They worry that their credibility as meteorologists is on the line; however, sources say nothing has changed.
“We had said [to management] multiple times that we want differentiated branding,” says one former News 12 Long Island employee, “because there was a day or two where we had legitimate tornadoes in Suffolk County and we’re using the same branding that we would be if it was raining hard.”
“Weather, in any news station, that’s kind of your bread and butter,” says another former News 12 staffer. “There’s a tad of hype that you have to put into it for the viewership, but you don’t lie to them and we were basically lying to the viewership for ratings.”
Not unlike other areas of coverage from News 12, the Storm Watchers have also become a focus of ridicule on social media by viewers. In October 2021, while News 12 Long Island was once again in “Storm Watch” mode, covering what the staff called a “Nor’easter,” dozens of locals took to Facebook and hounded the station with critical comments indicating they were experiencing an ordinary rain event. “What Nor’easter?” wrote one person in a comment. “You guys missed another one as usual.” Wrote another: “Stop the drama News 12 Long Island.”
Part of the company’s weather branding, sources say, is another Altice-initiated gimmick: the News 12 forecasting vehicle, Thunderbolt. While sources say many stations have similar weather forecasting tools, and that they understand such a vehicle can be useful in certain weather events, the Thunderbolt has become a must-see in weather stories, often without justification. Reporters and meteorologists have been told to report from the vehicle even when the weather is not particularly notable. Part of the reason, sources say, is the attached Ford branding.
Staffers also say the signal emanating from the truck is inconsistent, leading to newscast disruptions, though perhaps the biggest problem they have with the Thunderbolt is its name. As former employees note, management clearly did not consult with weather forecasters on its branding because “thunderbolts” are not meteorological phenomena at all. They don’t exist, and sources say this fact underscores the station group’s forced efforts to air branded content and overhype weather events.
“When [Natz] took over we really became alarmist,” says a former News 12 staffer, commenting on the weather reporting. “He loved it, but we became a laughingstock.”
Concerns For Employee Safety, Well Being
On Sept. 1, 2021, News 12 workers in Westchester were called into the newsroom early to cover the New York metro area arrival of Hurricane Ida. Though it was a weather event that had been anticipated days in advance, News 12 upper management did not book hotel rooms for its personnel. Typically, that would have been the case, sources say, as it was when the station covered the remnants of Hurricane Henri only nine days earlier.
Employees pulled lengthy shifts and reporting crews braved what multiple sources say were “unpredictable,” “violent” and “horrifying” weather conditions. When the reporting day was done, many workers slept on the station’s floor, others in their own cars as Ida pummeled the area. (Ultimately, the hurricane claimed the lives of at least 16 New York State residents.)
Due to flooding, Gov. Kathy Hochul had closed many state thruways that News 12 Westchester workers relied on to get home. Sources say by the time the station’s assistant news director, Annette Stellato, began calling hotels later in the evening, they were completely booked.
A disconnect in station leadership was partly to blame, say sources close to the situation. (News Director Pauline Chiou had taken a leave of absence a week or so earlier. Then, a week after the hurricane, management told employees that she was no longer with the company.) But these former News 12 employees also say the incident is part of a pattern revealing network upper management’s lack of concern for worker safety and well-being.
Generally, middle managers at the company like Stellato are concerned about worker safety and well-being, sources say. But, one source adds, “rarely can they get the big bosses to care about the people.
“Annette [Stellato] did everything she could to help her staff,” the source continues, “which included many young reporters and photographers on the most terrifying night of their lives. But it was clear to the staff that she wasn’t being supported by upper management. She was all alone, without help, when she needed it most for her staff.”
Sources say managers at News 12 have since made light of the incident and are quick to point out that though News 12 received multiple Emmy nominations for Hurricane Ida coverage, many of the employees responsible for that reporting 11 months ago have since left.
When concerns like these have been raised with upper management, sources say, they’ve been brushed off and sometimes blatantly disregarded. During one video conference meeting with personnel, Natz was confronted by an anonymous News 12 worker, who had their webcam turned off and was signed in under a pseudonym. The employee discussed issues with the company’s direction and its treatment of staff.
In response, according to sources, Natz said he would not consider the perspective of a “spineless coward” who refused to show their face on the Zoom call. Sources say that the reason the team member entered the call anonymously was out of fear of Natz and the rest of the Altice-appointed upper management.
Other employees detail events that felt like “personal attacks” on co-workers considering a departure from News 12. Exit announcements have been made without consent of those leaving the company, breaking industry etiquette, and job offers from other networks were pulled when word got out across News 12. Events like these have made personnel looking to leave the organization with any grace — or at least intact bridges — fearful of a prospective exit from the company. “The business is small” is a constant refrain from sources.
Current and former News 12 staffers also say Natz had taken the stance that any employee who contracted COVID-19 did so out of poor judgment and a disregard for safety protocol, even though carriers can be asymptomatic. According to sources, Natz blamed a COVID outbreak at News 12 Long Island’s headquarters on workers eating in control rooms. But departed personnel say they had to eat maskless in that space because staff cuts enacted by Natz forced them to work through meal breaks.
Former employees who’ve moved on from News 12 to other jobs in the industry also say they were “gaslit” on their way out by Natz, as well as Gruber. Exiting workers were told that they were beloved, and the company wanted to invest in them if they chose to stick around. But the micromanaging and constant criticism directed toward these workers said otherwise, they assert.
These former staffers also take umbrage with claims by News 12 upper managers that their team members are leaving the network en masse because they can’t handle the grind of news any longer. If that were the case, they say, departed staffers would have left the trade altogether. A few have, but many have gone on to work at other news outlets.
More Problematic Leadership
As with the hiring of Gruber — who one source calls “the most condescending woman I’ve ever encountered” — sources say there were further problems with the hiring of Amy Waldman, who became the Long Island branch’s assistant news director in February 2020, a few months prior to Natz’s hiring.
“The Amy Waldman hire was very unsettling for staffers,” says one News 12 source.
Though Waldman worked at WPIX New York for 11 years, ascending to news director in 2015, she was rumored to be hot tempered and tone deaf toward staffers as a manager. One month before Waldman was hired by News 12, a former WPIX camera operator, previously under her direction at the network, sued the station for slander. Ken Evseroff, the White photographer plaintiff, said in his suit that he was fired over false accusations from colleagues of racist behavior directed at a colleague, who is Muslim and a Bangladeshi-American.
In court documents supplied to TVNewsCheck by a source, Waldman is labeled by Evseroff’s attorney as a “properly named defendant” in the case because she was one of two “co-conspirators” in “the hostile work environment” Evseroff experienced. The document goes on to say that there is “credible evidence” that Waldman pressured the network’s head of human resources to use a coworker’s “false statements” as a precedent to fire Evseroff. She told the HR head to do so, even while those statements had already been investigated and “completely discredited.” (Per one source, supported by his social media accounts, Evseroff has since been hired back by WPIX.)
Sources at News 12 say Waldman regularly berates editorial team members and, like Natz and Gruber, judges their output with uncivil intensity, coming down hardest on veterans who earn the most money. A graphic that was incorrectly formatted and flashed momentarily during a broadcast, for example, could prompt a fiery Waldman tirade about an employee’s apparent ineptitude. Multiple sources claim so much emotional distress over the workplace toxicity Waldman has fueled that they’ve become physically ill as a result.
“It was ruining my entire life and my health,” one source, who was closely managed by Waldman, says. “I endured abuse for a very long time.”
After Waldman showed up, employee performance review scores of veteran workers plummeted, multiple sources say. Those who’d received high marks for decades, threes, fours and fives on a five-point scale, suddenly earned scores of one and two. Sources say the low marks were supported by falsehoods and exaggerated tales of what were, at worst, minor infractions. Yearly raises and employee bonuses dependent upon these review scores were not dispensed to those who, according to sources, unjustifiably scored ones and twos. Furthermore, sources say “action plans” were also generated, outlining required steps these supposedly poor-performing employees needed to take or else they’d be terminated.
“When Amy came, all of a sudden everyone was on an ‘action plan,’” says one source.
Sources say at News 12, Waldman has also mimicked her behavior toward Evseroff from her days at WPIX. According to them, Waldman, who is White, has accused other White employees of racist behavior toward people of color in their professional orbit. This, too, is all part of the Altice effort to cut costly staff, sources believe.
Sources also claim that there were instances in which they followed Waldman’s production notes and when the broadcasts were deemed incorrectly executed by managers further up the chain, Waldman blamed her subordinates for the moves. As a result, employee trust in Waldman as a manager has shriveled.
Staffers, current and former, also point out with incredulity that Waldman and other managers criticized their performance and threatened their jobs all while they worked long, in-person shifts with ever-changing hours to cover the initial waves of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, more than one source speaks positively of Waldman, saying they had no issues with her and in some cases that she was kind, generous and supportive of them.
An interview request to Waldman was unanswered.
A Reputation Scarred?
Word of News 12 workplace problems has crept beyond network newsroom walls. According to a recruiter with ties to the news industry, the company’s reputation for worker mistreatment, as well as its propensity for exceptionally low wages for new hires, is having a debilitating effect on Altice’s ability to attract quality talent to its seven cable channels.
The recruiter, who spoke anonymously so as not to disrupt prospective career opportunities, says they’ve heard about the News 12 “hostile work environment” and the “short tempers,” “raised voices” and “banging fists on the table” from upper management.
“I have spoken to several people who have left or have been forced out of the organization so Altice can hire less-experienced, lower-compensated future employees,” the recruiter says.
News 12’s “communicated compensation levels are drastically low, even for news,” the recruiter adds. They note that news does not pay workers at a high rate compared to other industries to begin with, and this approach by News 12 creates recruiting challenges for the small group.
“You can try and lure people to what they say is the No. 1 market, but as a result you’re getting less experienced folks who aren’t ready for that type of market,” the recruiter says. “That creates its own problem: stress running through the entire organization.”
The recruiter observes that workplace issues like these emanating from the News 12 group exist to some extent across much of the industry, and News 12 isn’t entirely an outlier.
“I’ve never seen it like this,” says the source, commenting on the industry’s labor problems. “As a result, the news product suffers and it just skews everything. It’s so off-kilter right now.”
When TVNewsCheck published its initial story about working conditions in the News 12 New Jersey newsroom in June, an Altice spokesperson said the company “take[s] these matters seriously and would review them internally.”
Shortly afterward, Keith Bowen, president of news and advertising at Altice USA, wrote an email to News 12 employees, obtained by TVNewsCheck, in which he said an internal investigation would be pending. Altice made good on its promise, hiring “a third-party neutral investigator,” as described by Bowen in another email obtained by TVNewsCheck. A few weeks later, Altice fired Natz as GM.
When TVNewsCheck presented Altice with the charges raised against the company in this story, brought forth by the 14 current and former News 12 newsroom sources, a company spokesperson responded with the following statement:
“Altice USA is very proud of News 12’s ongoing achievements and continued success, including growth in ratings and digital viewership as well as the receipt last month of 80 New York Emmy nominations, more than any other network in the tri-state, all of which underscore the high-quality hyperlocal journalism News 12 provides. Since acquiring News 12, we have invested in the network with the goal of growing its audience and viewership and so they can provide the news and information to our local communities across the tri-state.”
In addition to the notes about ratings increases and a boost in distribution channels, the spokesperson says Altice has invested millions in the News 12 brand, with an updated logo, modern graphics, as well as studio and set upgrades. A new multimillion-dollar newsroom complex in Bethpage, which will include five studios and an expansive newsroom, is under construction.
Altice also says that News 12 remains home to a number of “long-time anchors and reporters who are mainstays of our local communities while also bringing in new talent who are quickly becoming familiar faces to viewers.” Around 40% of News 12’s full-time employees have been with the network for more than 10 years, the company adds.
But multiple sources for this story say that News 12 newsrooms have become the most toxic environments in which they have ever worked, since the Altice takeover — “almost indisputably so,” says one former staffer.
“Altice was the reason I left News 12,” says another. “I would have stayed there till I decided to retire and I would have been very happy doing that.”
“I’m in a station now where everyone has each other’s back,” says a source who left News 12. “Management from the guy at the top to the janitor all say ‘hi’ to each other and it’s friendly and helpful.”
The source says recently, at their new job, they’d worked 10 consecutive days, but enjoyed a full weekend off because colleagues of theirs volunteered to take over their shifts. A manager encouraged the source to take the time off and, the source says, “all the manager wanted to make sure of was I was OK with the amount of overtime I was getting.”
The source says treatment like that was the polar opposite of what they and their former colleagues endured at News 12 before they left, and what current employees are dealing with today under Altice ownership.
“Once upon a time it was a great place to be.”