Drivers laid on their horns as they passed demonstrators Monday holding “Honk 4 Hoover” signs outside WIS-TV to protest the station’s release of evening news anchor Ben Hoover.
“It’s crazy,” said Samantha Jo Newman, whose petition to bring Hoover back has reached more than 7,400 signatures on Change.org. “He was always willing to go the extra mile for us.”
When Hoover announced on his Facebook page last Thursday that Friday, July 4, would be his final day on air with WIS, viewers stormed social media by the thousands to express their support for Hoover – and their outrage with Columbia’s NBC affiliate.
In an interview Monday with The State, Hoover said he is surprised by the dedication of his fan base.
“I certainly appreciate it,” Hoover said. “I appreciate the outpouring of support and love I’ve received from the community.”
Hoover declined to say why his contract was not renewed, whether he had found another job or if he was in talks with WIS about a renewal of his contract.
“At this point, I would prefer not to discuss this matter publicly as I seek advice and consider my future options,” he said.
WIS General Manager Donita Todd also declined to say why Hoover’s contract was discontinued, but said that the station is already seeking a replacement anchor.
“We appreciate our fan base and we realize they get attached to people, but I believe we’ve consistently provided very qualified reporters and that’s the standard that we’ll maintain,” she said.
Meaghan Norman joined Hoover’s former co-anchor Judi Gatson for the 6 p.m. Monday broadcast.
Todd says that viewers can rest assured knowing the replacement anchor will be on par with Hoover in terms of job qualification and will “maintain the integrity of news product we’ve provided the Midlands for 60 years.”
“Every time we’ve left a position open, we’ve replaced it with somebody equally qualified and plan to do that again,” she said.
But protesters say they’re irked about the way WIS went about the nonrenewal, citing the station’s lack of transparency.
“There was no reason, no grounds for dismissal given,” said David Vaughn, a protester. “Without giving the viewers a reason for doing it, they’re not going to have any viewers.”
While the station has kept quiet on the reasoning behind Hoover’s release, Charles Bierbauer, dean of the College of Mass Communications and Information Studies at the University of South Carolina, says that foul play seems unlikely.
“He hasn’t been fired – he just hasn’t been renewed – which is a fair distinction to make. He met the terms of the contract and they met the terms of the contract and that’s where it ended,” Bierbauer said. “There doesn’t seem to be anything nefarious about this; it’s just, ‘Contract is over, good luck.’”