Yesterday, we reported about longtime 9News anchor Adele Arakawa revealing that she would retire from the station in June 2017 — an announcement she made before she'd planned to, after the media website FTVLive quoted sources as saying that she was being pressured to take a buyout. She dubbed the piece "fake news" that is "ugly, insidious and undermines the very values I've worked hard to exemplify for my forty-plus years in this business."
FTVLive founder Scott Jones, who wrote the original piece, didn't respond to this attack with silence. Instead, he posted a followup in which he doubled down on the earlier item and implied that Arakawa's anger may have been motivated more by self-importance than journalistic ethics.
Here's an excerpt from the latest offering:
You see, almost all TV anchors have huge egos and if you even suggest that they are maybe not leaving of their own accord, they get real testy.
How many times have you seen an anchor post about themselves leaving the station and almost in the first line, they write it was "completely their idea" or "the station made me an offer to stay"?
Arakawa went this route as well. Of course, she never mentioned if the offer was for more money or a pay cut. She also never mentioned if she was also offered anything to walk away.
FTVLive stands behind our story and obviously, the fact that we reported that Arakawa was leaving the station and she did indeed confirm that lets you know that we posted some news that the station was not ready to make public.
As we noted, "fake news" is a term used to describe completely fictional stories — like the one about the pizza restaurant supposedly fronting for a Hillary Clinton child-sex ring that apparently prompted a man who believed the bogus tale to shoot up the joint. FTVLive's Arakawa post doesn't qualify under that definition even if the sources were wrong about her reasons for retiring, as she maintains. But in an interview with Westword, Jones insists that he didn't feel frustrated after being improperly tarred with the "fake news" brush. "That's going to be a buzzword for a while," he says. "Thank Donald Trump for that. But if I got offended by what people said after doing this for so long, I'd lead a miserable life."
Far from being a "fake news" purveyor, FTVLive is one of the longest-running media-news sites on the Internet — and Jones has legitimate TV news credentials. "I worked in the industry for twenty-plus years and did pretty much every job in the newsroom," he notes. "I started as a photographer, then went to reporter, assignment editor, producer, executive producer, managing editor, news director and vice president of news" at markets that include Tulsa, West Palm Beach, Sacramento, St. Louis, Miami, Pittsburgh and Buffalo, New York.
After getting laid off in Buffalo circa 2000 (and he's fine if folks want to say he was fired), Jones started FTVLive practically on a lark. "Because I've worked at so many stations in so many places and met so many people along the way, we'd e-mail each other back and forth about news going on in certain markets," Jones recalls. "So one day I decided to put the site online so all my friends could see the news in one spot. They started telling their friends, and they started telling their friends, and I went from getting a couple of hundred visits a month to a couple of thousand to tens of thousands."
At that point, Jones transformed FTVLive (now based in Jacksonville, Florida) into a subscription site, and he says he made a nice living from it on that basis for a decade. Then, in 2013, he shifted to an advertiser-based website "and FTVLive exploded in traffic. If I got 20,000 visits a day when it was a subscription site, it was huge — but the other day, I got 750,000 visits for a single day."
One of his recent smashes was a video in which a CNN crew was caught "joking about Donald Trump's plane crashing while they were waiting at the Carrier press conference" in Indiana, Jones says. The clip he posted on YouTube has racked up nearly 2.5 million views to date and has been shown on Fox News, among other places. Here it is:
Regarding the Arakawa story, Jones points out that 9News owner TEGNA is among numerous major broadcast companies that routinely cut costs by severing ties with veteran personalities being paid more than the current economic climate in TV news can justify.
"The days of the high-priced TV anchor are getting shorter and shorter and shorter," he allows. "They're all being replaced by much cheaper talent. That's the world we live in now, and companies like TEGNA and Scripps all want to do it with younger, cheaper people. It's all about the investor and how much money they can make for the company. News used to be the number-one priority, but now the priority is money for all these companies. There are very few companies out there that don't put the dollar before journalism."
Jones stresses that he's been a fan of Arakawa's dating all the way back to her time in Chicago, before she came to Denver in the early 1990s. But her reaction to his report strikes him as awfully familiar.
"Anchors always want to say that leaving was their idea," he says. "Sometimes it is their idea, but many times they're pushed toward the exit. They could be making $400,000 a year and the station says, 'We'd like to keep you, but we want to pay you $150,000 a year,' and they decide to walk because they don't like the idea of a $250,000 pay cut. So they walk and then say, 'The station wanted me to stay, but I decided to move on.'"
FTVLive's sources at TEGNA are first-rate, Jones believes; as evidence, he includes links to nine separate scoops about the company in the Arakawa post. At the same time, though, he feels "TEGNA and Adele Arakawa overreacted to the whole thing."
"FTVLive is read by everybody in the industry, but outside the industry, I don't know how many people read it in the Denver market," he acknowledges. "Maybe 200? So they had a knee-jerk reaction to the story. If they didn't want to announce it until later on, they should have just ignored the story and announced it later on — during a ratings book, which is what they always do. So I think they handled it totally wrong."
Not that he's complaining. Arakawa's decision to confirm that she's retiring "gave me press and got me traffic," Jones says. "So good for them. I'm glad they did what they did."
Even if she accused him of dispensing "fake news" in the process. Look below to see Arakawa's retirement announcement.
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.