Ernie Ford is showing off the purplish-gray and blue model of KSL's new, improved news set to be unveiled in a few weeks.
"Oh, hell, the anchor fell down," Ford said, leaning forward to set up a little cardboard figure in front of a wide-angle view of the Salt Lake skyline.These are the projects that try managing editors' souls.
Ford, a veteran newspaper editor who turned to TV a decade ago, still belittles his grasp of the technology that makes broadcast news. He is equally vague about the duties behind the job title, managing editor, he holds through this week at KSL. He admits to being a news cheerleader and a staff morale-builder. "I have no idea what I do, but I sure as hell am busy."
Ford closed out a decade at KSL and a Salt Lake journalism career of more than 25 years on Friday. He is moving to Dallas to be assistant news director and managing editor for KDFW-TV.
Ford is of a dying generation of journalists - a colorful, profane, crusty kind of editor with rolled-up-shirt-sleeves who cares more about getting the dirt than what his reporters looked like while they mucked in it.
As assistant news and managing editor of Salt Lake's highest rated news station, he cares about ratings because it ensures job security. "The worst thing that ever happened to television news is they discovered they could make money on it," he said. But for Ford, news is a cause with a capital "C." Under his editing pen, accuracy is never sacrificed in favor of a well-turned phrase.
Personally, Ford, 48, is unassuming, a glib and colorful storyteller with an Oscar Wilde brand of cynicism and a journalist's distrust of the establishment. He established KSL's Probe 5 investigative reporting team, which has claimed many journalistic honors, and was himself the recipient of national awards for a series that exposed nursing home fraud.
Ford's career also included university teaching stints. Among journalists, he's known for his longtime leadership of the local chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists and his now-legendary fight to keep the Freedom of Information Act from being gutted by Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch.
Ford testified before the Senate Subcommittee on the U.S. Constitution in favor of the FOIA and headed a petition to the U.S. Supreme Court that eventually allowed still cameras in the courtroom.
Besides his management duties, Ford has hosted KSL's Round Table program, a weekly interview program. One episode started off on a serious note, with a showing of the tape of the 1986 Challenger shuttle explosion in which seven astronauts lost their lives.
Ford and KSL's science reporter Ed Yeates were joined around the table by scientific experts to discuss the disaster. But the grim mood was shattered when Ford's watch burst into its hourly rendition of "Love Me Tender."
Ford said he shoved his hands under the table and tried frantically to shut off the watch. But he couldn't find the right buttons, and the romantic tune echoed throughout the newsroom sparking an explosion of laughter and a new taping of the program.
Ford fumbles to show that he still can't find the right buttons to shut off his watch as he talks in KSL's lunchroom, where the tables are decorated with carnations left over from his daughter's wedding.
Some former students remember Ford repeatedly decrying the lack of depth in broadcast news and say that he sold out when was hired into the glamour world of TV. "I think he really sold out when he went into TV," jokedd Peter Gillins, now UPI bureau chief in Portland, "because he started to get his hair blow-dried. He used to slick it back like a print guy."
But despite the change of media, Ford remains grounded in the tradition of newspaper journalism. As assistant city editor at the Salt Lake Tribune, Ford would wave his etched pica pole for emphasis and go on tirades, accusing the entire newsroom of theft when it was misplaced. In KSL's newsroom, he's carried on the tradition. "I still occasionally bring it out and bang on the desk," Ford said.
Ford pushes open the door to the News Control room. "Some of my worst moments have happened in here," he said, in a wry aside.