- The Washington Times - Monday, August 2, 2004

David Roberts resigned yesterday as vice president and news director of WUSA-TV (Channel 9), although people familiar with the situation said the troubled CBS affiliate forced him out amid falling ratings.

The dismissal is not expected to affect plans to overhaul the station’s main anchor team, including a potential demotion for star anchor Gordon Peterson.

“This is part of the business,” Mr. Roberts said of his departure when reached at home yesterday.

“I leave knowing I have given 1,000 percent and regardless of the outcome, the people I’ve worked with at Gannett were very supportive and provided me with numerous opportunities for which I’m thankful.”

WUSA is one of 22 stations owned by McLean media giant Gannett Co. Inc.

Mr. Roberts arrived at WUSA in September 2000 and is credited with getting the station back into the business of doing harder news after a disastrous experiment with tabloid-style reporting in the 1990s.

He also helped lure popular anchor Tracey Neale away from rival WTTG-TV (Channel 5), the local Fox station.

But WUSA, once the top choice for local news among Washington-area viewers, never reclaimed the ratings crown during Mr. Roberts’ tenure. In recent months, the station has suffered unusually low viewership during its afternoon and evening newscasts.

Mr. Roberts also fired several WUSA veterans, including crime reporter and anchor Mike Buchanan and sportscasters Ken Mease and Frank Herzog, who will leave the station in the fall when his contract ends.

Darryll J. Green, WUSA’s president and general manager, would say only he is “sorry to see Dave go. We thank him for all his hard work.”

The often-blunt Mr. Roberts — a protege of James Snyder, Channel 9’s renowned news director of the 1970s — was not popular among many newsroom employees, but his firing intensified staff anxiety and deepened low morale.

“We’ve been through this before. You just hunker down and do your job,” one staffer said.

WUSA has had four permanent news directors since 1995, when Dave Pearce’s 11-year tenure ended.

Regardless of who succeeds Mr. Roberts, viewers could see big changes at WUSA.

Mr. Peterson has been negotiating a new contract with Mr. Green, a prickly situation because the station wants to reduce his on-air role, people familiar with the talks say.

Ms. Neale’s WUSA debut has been delayed, in part because Mr. Peterson’s future is uncertain, the sources said. The station still hopes to hire a male anchor, who may end up replacing Mr. Peterson on the anchor desk, the sources said.

WUSA also is searching for Mr. Herzog’s replacement.

Randall Stanley, a WUSA executive producer, will manage the newsroom until Mr. Roberts’ successor is named. Mr. Stanley and Mr. Green previously worked together at another Gannett station, the NBC affiliate in Buffalo, N.Y.

Mr. Roberts’ top lieutenant, Susan Truitt, resigned last week, citing personal reasons.

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