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On the Hot Seat

Interaction with viewers key at Channel 5

Bill Fine, president and general manager of WCVB-TV (Channel 5), and its website, TheBostonChannel.com. Bill Fine, president and general manager of WCVB-TV (Channel 5), and its website, TheBostonChannel.com. (Suzanne Kreiter/ Globe Staff)
July 5, 2009
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Bill Fine is president and general manager of WCVB-TV (Channel 5), and its website, TheBostonChannel.com. A Boston native and WCVB veteran, he returned to the station in 2005 after overseeing WBAL-TV in Baltimore for seven years. Fine, who lives in Wellesley with his wife and three children, is also vice chairman of the board of governors for the ABC Television Network Affiliates Association. He hosts a weekly segment to present the station’s editorial viewpoint on local issues. Fine is also active in Boston social and philanthropic circles, serving on the boards of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce and the United Way of Massachusetts Bay. Globe reporter Johnny Diaz recently caught up with him at WCVB’s Needham studios.

You’re the only general manager of a Boston television station who appears on camera each week for a station editorial. Why do you think it’s important to keep up this tradition?

WCVB has always had the strongest voice in the community, and editorials are one of the reasons why. All TV stations look for points of distinction from their competitors, and we feel that editorials are one of ours.

What were some recent topics?

Reform before revenue. Basically encouraging the governor and the Legislature to work together to downsize government spending before they increase taxes. Tolls and fees are taxes by a different name.

You also had one editorial requesting that Mayor Thomas M. Menino have more television debates.

I’ve talked to the mayor about that, and he smiles a lot. I am hopeful that WCVB will have one. No matter what city I was in, if there was an election, I do think there should be debates. If you can bring it on television, you’ll bring it to the vast majority of the market. Even though it’s a Boston election, it’s of vital importance to our entire viewing area.

How much television do you watch?

You cannot be a general manager of a television station and not watch a lot. I will check some of our newscasts, if not all of them, on a day-to-day basis. I tape them so I can go back. I look at our competitors’ newscasts to see what they are doing. Then I consider my guilty treat at the end of the day to watch “Chronicle.’’ Just this past weekend, I was watching the pilots for the next season, which is a benefit of the job, to see what is coming up. And then I’m a sports fan. Red Sox, Patriots, and I have a special affinity for the Celtics. Even the Bruins got back into the act. I’m a media baby first and foremost but a child of television.

You recently hired one of the more well-known names in this market, Randy Price, to boost ratings for your morning show. Was this a big gamble, considering that most stations are letting go of some of their veteran and more highly paid reporters?

I look at Randy as the best free agent available, hardly a gamble. It is true, many stations are letting go of anchors for economic reasons. Many of them are seeking work at WCVB. Randy was the best of a strong group that interviewed here, which speaks to his considerable journalistic skill and to the fact that we think he is a great fit with NewsCenter 5.

WCVB recently introduced a new social online platform, ULocal. Why do this when your website is already so interactive and popular?

To ignore the impact that the Web has had and the various websites would be to your own peril. At some point during the broadcast day, week, month, we reach the vast majority of this market. They may be an Oprah fan, they may be a NewsCenter5 fan, they may be a “Chronicle’’ fan, they may be a “Desperate Housewives’’ fan, we have that opportunity to reach them all. ULocal represents our desire to continue growth and provide our viewers and users a further opportunity to interact with the station and the local community in an even more attractive way. Who says a television station can’t build a community where there is this shared interest of local topics? They can discuss topics of local interest, while sharing pictures and video with other users.

With fewer advertisers and viewers, do you believe local TV news will have a long future?

Absolutely, but you expected me to say that. Television just entered the digital age where the technology alone has increased TV viewing nationwide. The key for all broadcasters is to produce relevant, local content of interest. The difference is how we all cover the market but everyone focuses on local news. Every weeknight, our talented “Chronicle’’ crew provides incredible coverage of New England, from extraordinary long-form journalism to the best bargains in town.

What do you enjoy most about your job as the top executive of WCVB?

I have an incredible passion for this business. I’ve worked or dabbled in almost all media - film, radio, newspaper, magazines - but the television business remains my true love. TV has so much impact for so many people. But the fact of the matter is, everybody watches TV, even those who say they don’t, if you know what I mean. Every day brings a new experience, new challenges, and, hopefully, new success. On the one hand, working to preserve the important legacy of WCVB adds enormous pressure, but it’s also an extraordinary honor for me. We have a lot of shared collective consciousness in America from what we see on television.

What advice do you have for aspiring broadcasters?

The same as I do for employees of WCVB: Make yourself indispensable.