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Broken bones and breaking stories

Jun 18, 2001  •  Post A Comment

Just months after Peter Roghaar arrived at NBC affiliate WPTV, West Palm Beach, Fla., the market became ground zero for the November 2000 election debacle.
“Election Day itself was a 20-hour day. Afterward it was probably 14-hour days,” said Mr. Roghaar, 33, the station’s news director. “This was a story that is going to have historical significance, and it was happening four blocks from our station in the government building. I’d drive to work in the morning and drive by the government building and there would be 30 satellite trucks.”
Crews from NBC News, two NBC affiliate stations and television outlets from Germany and England worked out of the old, small station editing in secretaries’ offices and hallways. “The staff really got into the story,” Mr. Roghaar said. “They were coming up to me to say they didn’t want their days off because they wanted to stay on the story.” In March WPTV moved into a new $25 million digital facility that is 72,000 square feet.
The hard work paid off, and WPTV won a regional Edward R. Murrow Award for continuing coverage of the election. “It was a great experience to go through that professionally and to oversee such a big story like that and to be recognized for a Murrow award validated our coverage.”
Every sweeps book has been up since Mr. Roghaar was hired in June of last year. For November 2000, the 11 p.m. news earned an 11.9 Nielsen Media Research rating and 22 share, up from 11.2/21 in November 1999. In July 2000 WPTV’s 11 p.m. news got a 9.5/18 share, up from 7.4/14 the previous year. In February the newscast got an 11.9/21, up from an 11.6/21n February 2000. In May, the 11 p.m. newscast earned a 12.4/22, up from an 11.4/21 in May 2000.
His job performance is especially noteworthy, because two months after he was hired, he was driving to his newly purchased home when he got into a serious car accident and had to be helicoptered to a hospital. His pelvis was broken in three places, and there were injuries to his leg, tailbone, six ribs and shoulder. He also suffered a punctured lung. After two surgeries and six days of intensive care, Mr. Roghaar was transferred to a rehabilitation center to learn to walk again. He worked from his hospital bed, holding meetings with anchors and producers. “I had my wife sneak my cellular phone into the hospital room. It was like a walkie-talkie. You just push one button, and I was connected to everyone in the newsroom.”
“All you have in a hospital room is time on your hands, and I got so much time to watch our product-the newscast-and scrutinize,” Mr. Roghaar said. “You have your newscast and your competitor’s newscast.”
He also conducted focus groups, asking the doctors and nurses to watch WPTV’s newscasts and give feedback. At one point, the assistant news director resigned, and Mr. Roghaar had to conduct a search for a new one from his hospital bed. A month before the presidential election he returned to the newsroom, walking with the use of a cane.
Mr. Roghaar’s accident had a profound effect on his life and his approach to news. “It’s had a personal effect on my life and how I deal with people,” he said.
Mr. Roghaar was born and raised in Boston and moved to Boca Raton, Fla., at age 9 with his adoptive parents. In February his sensitivity to the subject of adoption inspired him to produce “A Time to Care,” a week-long program during which reporters focused on foster care and adoption in Florida. Every newscast had one segment on the topic, and as a result, many local kids were adopted, and the station has made the adoption series an annual event. “There’s really nothing more important that we could do for the community than to provide an environment for kids that’s safe,” he said.
In March, when the station moved to its new digital facility, Mr. Roghaar had the anchors report from the old building at the beginning of the 6 p.m. news and then, as the cameras rolled, the anchors walked outside and got in a helicopter, which flew them across town to the new station, and the team walked in to end that newscast in the new location.
In May he started another franchise segment, “Power Profile,” which focuses on influential businesswomen in the community who have broken through the glass ceiling and are balancing their careers with family.