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Fox18's Mathis Not Suspended

Premature story adds to Observer's accuracy problems

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Since we put this column up on our website last week, the Observer has backtracked on its assertion that Fox18 weatherman Mark Mathis has been suspended (but without ever mentioning that their original report was wrong, of course). What we reported as of last Wednesday is that even though Mathis' 30-day absence still has tongues a-waggin' locally, he was not suspended, as had been reported in the daily. This comes two weeks after the Observer reported that the Coffee Cup had closed permanently, only to be corrected by CL food writer Tricia Childress.As for Mr. Mathis, WCCB news director Ken White told me that, "He's off for 30 days. It was time off, vacation planned before the book."

This explanation frankly makes more sense than Mathis' alleged suspension over the ill-advised "Fox News Edge" piece that mocked the linguistic quirks of our Gaston County neighbors.

The supposed suspension had made no sense to me, because the "Gastonese" story was promoted in advance, meaning it went through the normal newsroom checks and balances, i.e., editors and producers approving the scripts, etc. White says that he did not see the promo in advance, however.

Rumors are still floating that Mathis' absence is everything from a stint in rehab, since he has acknowledged past alcohol problems, to a long vacation cruise. Something still isn't kosher, though, since WCCB management admits that they don't always have a leash on his weather clown antics, and how many people do you know who get 30 days vacation in one clump?

Bottom line, dear readers? Make no mistake: Fox18 is loving this attention, except for some news staffers who tell me they're embarrassed to be identified as the station with the loose-cannon weatherman. To add to the credibility gap, they've even had WSOC-FM morning guy Jeff Roper filling in.

Helped by big Fox lead-ins like 24, Joe Millionaire, and American Idol, Fox18 won the 10pm news race by a nice margin over WAXN's program. Their promos really cut through the clutter, too, due to staffers like Jonathan Case and Chris Ayres. And young viewers, those non-traditional news viewers, are actually watching their newscasts. Maybe Mathis is on a cruise.

Speaking of the February Nielsens, the biggest story was the massive sigh of relief from WSOC, which dodged a bullet at 11pm, beating WBTV's newscast by just two ratings and share points. Channel 3 is putting word out on the street that the viewing tide is turning, while Channel 9 points to ABC's dismal network primetime showing last month. In fact, only five ABC affiliates in the 54 Nielsen-metered markets across the country won their 11pm, and nine went up from their 10pm lead-in.Channel 3 won the noon as usual, but Channel 9 scored best for morning and evening newscast ratings. Dr. Phil is kicking butt at 10am on WSOC, and Oprah still wins. NBC6, which repeatedly wins awards and kudos from critics and this publication's readers, is still in third place.

She still has to buy a house here, but WTVI has hired a new President and CEO after a national search. Talking from her Tampa home, where's she's been a honcho at WEDU-TV, Elsie Garner told me she's ready for the challenge, and has had Charlotte on her radar for some time."It's a city that really seems to have it together. I've known Hal (Bouton, the current WTVI President) professionally for years, and I've always been impressed with what he's had to say about the city and his board. I'm sorry to see public television lose him."

Garner, who was raised in South America and is bilingual, has over 30 years of public television experience, and brings the number of women at top jobs in Charlotte TV stations to three.

Garner begins her job July 1, replacing Bouton, who's retiring after 20 years at WTVI.

So that's how they name those things: Joyfully counting its good fortune, WDAV radio in Davidson has received its biggest single donation ever. Martha Newell, the widow of a college alum and former pastor of Davidson Presbyterian Church, has given the station a $700,000 gift. This helps with the upkeep of WDAV's nice new studio and building, which will be called the Samuel W. Newell Building. . . .Following up on our last column about local war coverage, the Charlotte Observer's Mark Johnson and Peter Smolowitz will be "embedded" if war begins. They volunteered to be correspondents and underwent the requisite training as part of parent company Knight Ridder's team. . . .And you think Fox18's weather is out of control? The news director of Raleigh's WNCN-TV lost her job a couple of weeks ago when a weathercast was delivered by two rap "artists." The hijinks ended with a double crotch-grab, moments before a Black History Month segment. Word to your unemployment agency!

Stay tuned. . .

Shannon's media column runs every other week in CL. She's an independent television producer and former news manager at WBTV. E-mail her at Shannon.Reichley @cln.com.

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