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Media Watch

Stratton Says Farewell

By Kevin Brass, Fri., July 28, 2006

Linda Stratton
Linda Stratton

Mocking the dreams of young girls with fine enunciation everywhere, Fox-7 co-anchor Linda Stratton is voluntarily leaving her seat at the anchor desk and quitting the glamorous world of local TV news. While conspiracy theorists may speculate that Stratton is being nudged out the door, the latest casualty in Austin's escalating news-reader catfight, she insists the decision to leave KTBC was completely her own. "I decided it was time for me to make a career change," said Stratton, who will remain on the air until her contract expires at the end of August.

Stratton and perky Mike Warren were brought in to lead the station's news effort only two years ago. They replaced the duo of Carrie Schumacher and Austin TV news elder statesman Dick Ellis, representing a major new initiative from the station's news department. With Stratton playing the role of stern news maiden to Warren's breathless, gee-whiz guy next door, the results have been, as they say, mixed. The station usually trails ABC affiliate KVUE and NBC's KXAN in most head-to-head time periods.

Stratton was offered a new contract but turned it down. "I was surprised," said news director Pam Vaught. "We wanted her to stay." Stratton says the move primarily represents a "lifestyle" change, a chance to get away from the demanding and unpredictable dog-eat-dog world of TV news. In 11 years as an anchor/reporter, she already lists stops in Midland, San Angelo, Spokane, and Las Vegas on her résumé. She plans to return to Las Vegas where she has family and friends to pursue a career in, perhaps – gasp! – public relations, the lifestyle choice of many former TV news hounds. "I'm looking forward to doing something less public and something with more normal hours," Stratton said.

Her decision to leave comes at time of turmoil and anguish in local TV news. In recent weeks, two of the four network affiliates fired their general managers, and veteran snappy dresser Ron Oliveira jumped from KVUE to KEYE, signaling an escalation in the throw-down competition among the furrowed-brow-news-reader set. With Stratton's departure, TV news gossipmongers will now turn their attention to the status of Warren, who manages to annoy a large swath of serious news viewers, except those who think he's "dreamy." Warren's contract was also up in a few weeks, but he has inked a new deal, Vaught said. "He'll be staying with us," she said.


No More Geography?

Time Warner Cable subscribers continue to find a black hole on Channel 51, the prime channel slot most recently filled by the National Geographic Channel. Several weeks ago the cable system dumped the station from its standard channel lineup (although it's still available on the more expensive digital tier), infuriating fans of the network's beloved nature films and archeological peep shows. Systems in San Diego and Syracuse have made similar moves, apparently representing another miniskirmish in the ongoing war between cable systems and programmers over broadcasting fees.

Local Time Warner spokesman Roger Heaney says the system, which raised prices last year, didn't want to increase prices to subscribers for National Geographic, suggesting that National Geographic was raising its fees. "Absolutely not," said National Geographic spokesman Russell Howard. In a written statement, he said the channel, which is two-thirds owned by Fox Cable, "strenuously objected" to the move. "For the record, we have not increased our costs to Time Warner," he said.

When told of Howard's statements, Heaney refused to comment. "We don't talk about business negotiations," he said. The local cable system's programming deals are negotiated at a national level, where Fox Cable is trying to hash out fees for a wide variety of channels. Heaney characterized the programming negotiations as "ongoing," which might explain why TWC is taking its time finding new programming for Channel 51.


Not to Mention Hurricanes ...

KVUE-TV political reporter Lee McGuire is leaving to take a reporting job with KHOU-TV, the CBS affiliate in Houston. KHOU and KVUE are both owned by Belo Corp., so there's a good chance he'll still be seen on the air in Austin in the future. In an e-mail blast to friends and colleagues, the native New Englander says he's decided to stay in Texas, "despite the fact that I am now allergic to just about everything, am deathly afraid of fire ants, and look terrible in boots."

Send tips on local media to "Media Watch" at kbrass@austinchronicle.com

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