He didn't want to come to Cincinnati. Now he doesn't want to leave.
But Michael Baldwin, WXIX-TV Saturday night anchor and general assignment reporter, is heading to Clarksburg, W. Va., to become one of the nation's few African Americans working as a TV news director.
"This is a dream come true. I've been thinking about this for years," says Baldwin, 45, a New York native who came here from a Cleveland TV station five years ago. (He was very happy in Cleveland and had no interest in leaving – until the newsroom management changed.)
"Turns out I made a great career move joining Fox 19. I've really become a journalist here. They require reporters on the night side to find their own stories," he tells me.
Baldwin says he had to make "an incredibly long, tireless, and agonizing decision" because he didn't want to leave Cincinnati. "But after much thought, I felt this was the right career choice for me. The chance to get to work in management is something I have contemplated for years, but never got the opportunity -- until now," he wrote on Facebook.
After working his final shift July 7, Baldwin goes to WDTV-TV, the CBS affiliate in Clarksburg, about 40 miles south of Morgantown. Gray Television owns both stations. Clarksburg is No. 173 of Nielsen's 210 TV markets; Cincinnati is No. 37.
His promotion is not a knee-jerk reaction to the raised consciousness about African Americans in leadership positions since the death of George Floyd on Memorial Day. He has been talking to Debbie Bush, WXIX-TV vice president and general manager, for two years about his management ambitions. Only 5.5% of U.S. TV news directors are African-Americans, according to a 2019 survey of all 1,685 "operating, non-satellite television stations" by the Radio Television Digital News Association.
Does he feel added pressure after the Black Lives Matter protests and talk about diversity in the past month?
"I do. It is something I've never done before in news," says Baldwin, who notes that he has management experience at a car dealership. WDTV-TV has a news staff of 20 or 21, he says.
In my 35 years covering Cincinnati television, I've only known one Black news director: Ken Jobe at WLWT-TV (1999-2001). Baldwin has known only two – Jobe, when he worked in Memphis, and Camille Edwards, formerly of WABC-TV in New York.
"Being promoted from reporter to news director just doesn't happen very often. Michael is one of the best reporters in the market – and our company recognized his talent by promoting him to lead a newsroom and mentoring young journalists. I'm very proud of him and excited about his future," Bush says.
After graduating from the University of Massachusetts Boston in 1999, Baldwin worked for TV stations in Wichita Falls, Texas; Chattanooga, Tenn.; Las Vegas, Nev.; Providence, R.I.; and Cleveland.
"I will never forget my first time on the air (at Channel 19). I was supposed to observe for a week, but… Fox 19 couldn't let me wait a week" because of the shooting of Cincinnati Police Officer Sonny Kim. He was sent to the scene for a live report on the morning news.
"Just before I went live, the producer yelled in my ear, 'Who are you?' I then asked, 'What's the anchor's name again?' " Baldwin says. "I had only met Rob Williams once, and I didn't remember his name. I didn't even know where I was."
He quickly felt at home in WXIX-TV's diverse newsroom.
"For 18 years, I have worked in newsrooms without seeing news managers' faces that look like mine. In fact, I never have," Baldwin wrote on Facebook. "I have seen very few African American producers. At Fox 19, I am proud to say our news director has hired five, although right now we sit at four. Before working here, I would see maybe one, but usually no African Americans producers. Things are changing for the better. Diverse opinions and perspectives makes for a better newsroom and news product."
"I've never been as close with management as I am at Fox 19," he tells me. "I'm asked about my ideas. I've been participating in the Zoom conferences for news directors since early June."
Steve Hyvonen, WXIX-TV news director, says that Baldwin "is one of the reasons for Fox19’s success over the past few years. He's an aggressive journalist, a calm leader, and a good human being. We will certainly miss him, but knowing he is moving to an influential and important role within our company makes me very happy. I look forward to working with him as a fellow news director."
As Saturday night anchor, Baldwin has been a mentor to younger producers and reporters.
"Although technically I was not in charge, the producer and reporters came to me and asked my opinion on what to do," he says. "Essentially I'm going to do the same thing in Clarksburg… It's a very small market. And as they learn, so will I."
Would he like to return to WXIX-TV as news director some day?
"I'm going to see where this opportunity takes me. I've got to do the job in West Virginia first. It's like being a reporter. I started out at a small station in Wichita Falls, Texas (market No. 147). My goal was to get to a bigger station. Maybe someday I'll be a vice president like Debbie," he says.
He thanked his Facebook friends and followers for their support:
"Many of you have been very heroic in getting critical information to me, helping bring justice or even saving a life. Without getting too specific, I was contacted about a newborn in a very dangerous, life-threatening situation. The individual asked me to do something. I did. Later on, I got an email from police saying, 'You very well may have saved that baby's life.' But it wasn't me, it was the people. It was YOU who follow me here. YOU who cared about a child you never met. We have done some amazing things together. For that, I can't thank you enough."
WXIX-TV "has been a great opportunity," he says. "Coming to Fox 19 is the second-best decision I've ever made, after taking the job in West Virginia, I hope."