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WTAE news director signing off

Thursday, June 17, 1999

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

As expected, WTAE vice president of news Tom Petner resigned from the station late Wednesday to become executive producer for the Web site www.apbonline.com and its sister wire service that provides police and crime stories to newspapers.

APB Multimedia Inc., based in New York, has created a Web site that touts itself as "the source for police and crime news, information and entertainment."

No word yet on who will replace Petner, who is expected to leave WTAE in early July.

Petner joined WTAE in January 1993, replacing longtime news director Joe Rovitto, who became assistant to the general manager before leaving to join a consulting firm. During Petner's tenure, Nielsen meters arrived in Pittsburgh, he instituted a short-lived "family news" concept, supervised coverage of the crash of USAir Flight 427 and last summer's tornado and orchestrated musical chairs at the anchor desk.

Though he's excited to be part of a venture that involves the convergence of the print and television media worlds, Petner said the highlight of his six years at WTAE -- making him Pittsburgh's news director with the current longest tenure -- has been his newsroom colleagues.

"I'm very happy about the people I've hired in this newsroom," Petner said. "I've also set them up in a way I think they feel comfortable."

During his watch, longtime anchor Don Cannon parted ways with the station and many of the current anchors were hired, including Scott Baker, Mike Clark, Michelle Wright, Melanie Shafer, Shawn Yancy, Ted Koppy, Sam Merrill, Andrew Stockey and Pat Parris. The station also built a bench behind meteorologist Joe DeNardo by bringing aboard Stephen Cropper, Jerry Martz and Mike Stone.

Onetime KDKA producer Tonia Caruso moved to WTAE to become a reporter. On the flip side, anchor Ken Rice left for KDKA, as did consumer reporter Yvonne Zanos. Sports anchor Alby Oxenreiter, who had been relegated to the TV version of the sidelines at Channel 4, found a better fit at WPGH, and reporter Alan Jennings jumped ship to join WPXI.

Rumors of Petner's departure have circulated for years and intensified in late winter.

"Every time I went out of town there was some kind of speculation: Where is he going? What is he doing?" Petner said, denying recent ratings trouble at the station precipitated his departure.

"I hadn't been looking for work elsewhere, they came after me," Petner said. "I think what they saw in a local news director was someone who knows you have to be highly targeted about your audience. You have to take the aggregate information that's out there and split it up into demos, the way morning news is focused at a certain audience and 11 p.m. is focused at a certain audience."

Petner said he's happy to move back East, closer to his hometown of Philadelphia and friends in New York where he once worked for WWOR.

A coincidence about Petner's move: His younger daughter starts college at New York University in the fall.

"A young girl wants to be as far away from her family as possible," Petner said, "and now I'm showing up in the same city."

Post-Gazette staff writer Barbara Vancheri contributed to this article.

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