PROVIDENCE — The sale of ABC6 from parent company Standard Media Group to Cox Media Group is off, Standard says.
Because of the termination of a broader TV station transaction, “WLNE-TV (ABC6) will continue to operate as a Standard Media station, and we look forward to continuing to serve the Providence, RI and New Bedford, MA communities,” a spokesperson for Nashville-based Standard Media said Thursday.
The development caps a difficult period for the station, which has long been in third place in the ratings for this market. Multiple current and former staffers say that morale has been exceedingly low, with several contributing factors: A feeling of limbo due to the long-pending sale (which now won’t happen). A fire in the Providence studios over the holidays that disrupted operations for a time. And what some on the ground felt was a lack of investment from Standard, which is owned by the hedge fund Standard General L.P. After the recovery from fire, some said, there was little evidence of significant new investment, even in the furnishings.
A spokesperson for ABC6 said in response to these critiques: “We are proud of the work of our employees and believe morale is strong at ABC6, with very few vacant positions. Since Standard Media acquired ABC6 in October of 2019, the company has invested more than $1.2 million to improve the station’s facilities and technology.”
Beyond that, multiple people who have worked there said former news director Allison Gaito helped create what they described as a toxic work environment. Gaito left in February, after about a year at ABC6; Gaito said all Standard Media told her was that they wanted to go in a different direction.
Gaito declined to comment on the accounts of her conduct, but observed that in a time of change, people “self-determine,” adding: “They either want on the ride or they aren’t willing or able to level up.” She said many of the decisions that affected the environment weren’t hers, but Standard Media’s.
“From the infrastructure to the support of upper management, to the actual tools that were given to my team — I’ve never worked in a newsroom that was so ill-equipped to do the news that we sought to do,” Gaito said.
The station has seen staff turnover recently, including some high-profile on-camera figures who had been there for years. Turnover isn’t unusual in TV news, and it’s been a particularly difficult time for an industry that sometimes pays its youngest employees less than they can make at Target or Starbucks. Channel 12 (WPRI) and Channel 10 (WJAR) have also had turnover lately. But several of the current and former ABC6 staffers interviewed for this story say that what’s happened at the station was unlike anything they’d experienced in the news business.
Brian Amaral can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @bamaral44.