BANGOR, Maine — Anchorman Craig Colson, coastal bureau reporter Susan Farley and five others at WABI-TV 5 got pink slips this week and are the latest victims of the floundering economy, the station’s general manager said Wednesday.
Most of the seven employees got the bad news Tuesday, but the last cut was not made until early Wednesday.
“It’s like saying goodbye to family,” said General Manager Mike Young, who also is WABI’s vice president, “We’ve lost close friends and colleagues.”
All departments were directly or indirectly affected by the cuts, and four of those who lost their jobs “had 20-plus years with the station, and the remaining three had five or less years of experience,” he said. All are “very talented employees and terrific human beings.”
Colson said in an e-mail Wednesday that “losing my job is a big shock, but it comes as no surprise.”
“I’m very aware of the economic situation the company is facing and I know I’m not alone,” he said. “It seems like not a night goes by that we didn’t have to report that another company was forced to make layoffs or close altogether.”
Colson added: “My one regret is that I wasn’t given a chance to say farewell to the audience, to say goodnight one last time. That’s what I’m doing now. It has been an honor to be able to come into their homes each” night.
Young asked that the off-air employees who lost their jobs not be identified, but said each was provided with a severance package to help “bridge the gap” between jobs.
“These people have a lot of experience and talent. Even the junior people we let go are outstanding, and my hope is they’ll land on their feet again soon,” he said.
Even though the coastal bureau chief is gone, the office, located on High Street in Ellsworth, will not close, Young said.
“We’re going to keep it open and we’ll be dispatching staff from Bangor to the … area to cover news and utilize the bureau and a studio outpost,” Young said.
Farley had worked as the bureau’s chief since August 2003.
Colson was hired by WABI-TV in November 1985 at the age of 18, and has spent his broadcasting career at the station, working for many years under the leadership of his father, longtime WABI anchor Don Colson, who has since retired.
He worked his way up the ladder, first as a photographer, then a field reporter until he made it to the anchor desk doing weekend newscasts. Most recently, he worked as the evening and late-night anchorman.
“Though I leave under difficult circumstances, I’ll always look back at my days at TV-5 with lots of good memories,” Colson said. “I have spent my entire adult life there, working 16 years with my father [and] several years with my brother. It’s also the place where I met my wife.
“I’m also leaving co-workers behind who really feel like parts of my family and will miss them,” he said.
WABI-TV, a CBS affiliate, is owned by Diversified Communications of Portland. It was started by former Gov. Horace Hildreth in 1953 and is still controlled by the Hildreth family, the company’s Web site says. It is Maine’s only locally owned television station, and its studios are located on Hildreth Street in Bangor.
Because about 20 percent of the staffers are veteran employees, Young said, there was no way to make cuts without causing pain.
“It’s an ugly, ugly task cutting jobs, especially in these times,” he said. “In my 26 years, I don’t remember ever having layoffs for economic reasons.
“The economy for our industry is the worst we’ve seen in decades,” he added. “It’s all economic.”
The layoffs were triggered by the “very difficult economy” and were carried out to “maintain long-term vitality” of the station, Young said.
Before the job cuts were made this week, the station and employees “cut every discretionary item that we could cut,” he said, adding, “It’s been quite a journey.”
Some events, such as the Kenduskeag Stream Canoe Race and possibly some University of Maine games, will not be covered as in years past as a cost-saving measure, he said.
“We’re currently evaluating how deep we’ll cut that [sports] schedule, if at all,” Young said. “All of our newscasts will remain intact.”
A wage freeze for the rest of the year also was put into place last week, and earlier this year a decision was made not to fill vacancies created when a couple of people left the station last year, he said.
“We made sure that we would have sufficient staff remaining to continue to provide our viewers and advertisers a quality product,” he said. “Those of us left behind will have to work a little harder, stronger … to continue to provide quality programming, as we have for 56 years.”