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Dave Roepke, Published October 19 2011

Valley News Live head: Huebner chose pay cut

FARGO – Responding to The Forum’s story about ex-anchor Robin Huebner’s allegations of gender and age bias in the wake of her resignation Monday, the head of Valley News Live said in a Tuesday newscast that she wasn’t forced out and chose to take a pay cut.

Huebner in August went from co-anchoring a 10 p.m. newscast on both KVLY and KXJB to anchoring the 5:30 p.m. KXJB broadcast. She continued to co-anchor at 6 p.m. on KVLY. The 50-year-old, a 26-year veteran of the station, was replaced in the 10 p.m. slot by Stephanie Goetz, a 26-year-old.

Via a lawyer, Jim Kaster of Minneapolis, Huebner has said she is considering filing a lawsuit claiming she was demoted because of her age and gender. She felt forced out because of the move to 5:30 p.m. and an accompanying pay cut, Kaster said.

Jim Wareham, general manager and president of KXJB and KVLY, did not respond to interview requests by The Forum on Monday or Tuesday, but he did make an on-air statement Tuesday night.

Wareham said Huebner had been given a choice of new responsibilities during the shakeup and chose the role that carried a pay cut. He noted she was, as she’d been before, anchoring two newscasts for Valley News Live when she offered her resignation Monday. His statement didn’t address Huebner’s accusations of age and gender bias.

Following Wareham’s on-air piece, Kaster said on Tuesday night that Huebner’s salary dropped about one-third when she moved to the 5:30 p.m. newscast. If she wanted her pay to stay the same, Huebner would have had to agree to give up the anchor desk to be a reporter, Kaster said.

Kaster alleged it was a tactic on the part of Valley News Live that anticipated eventual litigation, saying it was “absurd” to say she chose a lower pay rate.

Wareham also took The Forum to task for failing to note in the story that ran Tuesday that it’s owned by Forum Communications Co., which also owns WDAY-TV in Fargo and WDAZ-TV in Grand Forks – stations he said were in “a competitive news battle with Valley News Live.”

“Why not disclose the conflict? Makes you wonder why, doesn’t it?” he asked in the on-air spot.

Matthew Von Pinnon, editor of The Forum, said the shared ownership of the newspaper and the TV stations wasn’t mentioned because the article wasn’t about media competition.

“In fact, it’s really a story about how they dealt with an employee,” Von Pinnon said. “We weren’t writing about who’s on top.”

The shared owner of The Forum, WDAY and WDAZ is routinely mentioned in Forum stories about the stations, as well as in stories about WDAY 970 AM, a Fargo radio station also owned by Forum Communications Co., he said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Roepke at (701) 241-5535