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Sign Of The Times? Fort Smith Station Lets Sportscasters Go, Paves Way For “Radical Change”

In Arkansas, CBS, Editor's Desk, Firings, Fort Smith-Fayetteville-Springdale-Rogers, Leaving the Biz on May 10, 2012 at 8:25 am

Mike Irwin (Courtesy: KFSM-TV)

In a time where local sports is considered a dying art in many television markets, Fort Smith, Ark., CBS affiliate KFSM-TV has fired sports reporter Mike Irwin and chosen not to renew sports director John Engleman’s contract.

ArkansasOnline.com reports Irwin had worked at the station for 37 years, while Engleman started in 2009.

Irwin told the publication he heard rumblings of a new philosophy taking place for the station’s sports coverage.

“I had heard through the grapevine they were going to radically change their sports department,” Irwin said in the article. “I’m fine with it.”

Irwin said he hopes to again cover the Arkansas Razorbacks in another capacity, through broadcast or otherwise.

John Engleman (Courtesy: KFSM-TV)

Engleman said on his Twitter account, though, that he was leaving the business.

Though the station manager could not be reached for comment on the decision, KFSM news director Rick Bagley said in an email to ArkansasOnline.com the station is shifting focus, but keeping sports as a part of local newscasts.

“[KFSM is] reorganizing its sports department to focus on better storytelling of local athletes and all local sports,” Bagley said. “We are not ending sports coverage. Sports is and will continue to be an important part of our product on-air and online.”

It’s considered a bold move by many because the CBS affiliate is the top-rated station in the Fort Smith-Fayetteville-Springdale-Rogers market.

According to the KFSM website, only Jonathan Huskey remains listed as a sports anchor/reporter.

A job opening posted in the employment section of 5NewsOnline.com for a sports director had some interesting additions that could indicate the focus of the reorganized department. I’ve highlighted in bold the sections I find most curious.

“In the home of the Arkansas Razorbacks, there is much more to sports coverage than college athletics…The goal is to tell stories about local athletes, teams, coaches and events. Find exceptional local people and tell great stories about them and their sport. We’re going to focus on storytelling, not scores and highlightsThe Sports Director will meet with the news management at the beginning of each week to discuss coverage and story ideas. Sports stories and coverage will be pitched in news meetings.

Looks like the Sports Director’s sports coverage judgment will be managed by the news department. Will this be a continuing trend? Will stations’ weather departments soon have to jockey for placement in newscasts with environment-related pieces? More importantly, will they be controlled by the news director and others directly instead of given the faith to make their own decisions?

That is, after all, why sports directors have “director” in their job title, isn’t it?

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