AKRON, Ohio _ After close to 20 years at CBS News, anchor and reporter Russ Mitchell is going back to local TV.
Beginning Jan. 16, Mitchell will be managing editor for WKYC (Channel 3) and its lead anchor at 6 and 11 weeknights. He will do his last broadcast for CBS on Dec. 31.
Mitchell succeeds Romona Robinson, who ended a 14-year association with the Cleveland NBC affiliate earlier in December after she and the station could not agree on a new contract. But where Robinson had been a solo anchor in recent years, Mitchell will have an on-air partner to be named soon.
"I, for a while now, considered going back into local TV news," said Mitchell by phone from a train bound from Washington, D.C., to his base in New York City. "I've been at the network for 20 years. It's been a great ride, some incredible experiences, but I was ready to do something else.
"When I thought about local TV, I knew I wanted to go to a place that wanted to win, that had great people _ and it had to be in a community where I wanted to live, where I wanted my family to live." He is married to Karina Mahtani-Mitchell, a freelance contributor of entertainment reports to CBS, who may also do some work for WKYC. They have four children, the oldest in college, the youngest age 4.
"I talked to a lot of local markets around the country, but when I talked to WKYC, it was clear to me, quite frankly, that it was a perfect fit for me," Mitchell said.
He maintained that his move did not have to do with seeming declines in the importance of national broadcast news. "People have been talking about the decline of network news for years," he said. "It's still the big leagues. It's still the place, in crisis, that people turn to. This was a professional and personal decision for Russ Mitchell.
"I was in local TV for 10 years before going to the network 20 years ago," said Mitchell, who worked in his hometown of St. Louis, Dallas and Kansas City. "And over the years I've discovered that I've missed the buzz of a local newsroom. I was at WFAA (in Dallas) in the early '80s, which was a powerhouse operation, and that newsroom hummed."
There will be off-camera adjustments. Mitchell said he had not settled on where to live. And his middle children, ages 16 and 13, will finish their school years in New York before coming west. And he faces the challenge of being managing editor of WKYC news, which he said was already "a great product."
He will be talking with news director Rita Andolsen and other staff "and see what direction they want to go in. I think, in talking to them, that they are committed to a solid news broadcast that is done in a professionally produced way, that gets the news right. And hopefully first, but right is more important."
He will bring the experience of having learned from people he considers some of the best in the news business, such as Dan Rather and the late Ed Bradley. But he is also working in a changing news world, where social media such as Facebook and Twitter are now part of the process.
"I am going to have to do more of that," he said. "I'm on Facebook now. I have a personal page. I'll probably get a Facebook fan page that some people have. I'm on Twitter now. I don't tweet very often. I'm gonna have to up my game as far as that goes. That's very important. I know that, going into a community and especially somebody like me who wants to become part of that community, I'm going to have to have an online presence."
And there's another challenge here: making news judgments, and talking about, a community where he has not lived.
"I think it's going to be an organic process," he said. "I'm still going to rely on the staff to help me out. And I'm going to study very hard to get to know the city of Cleveland. I think what that (managing editor) title says is that this guy is coming in and he's going to be part of the editorial process. He's not coming in just to read the news. He's coming in to have a voice about our news product.
"I know that's not easy, in terms of coming in and learning local pronunciations and those kinds of things," he said. "I'm going to work very hard at that. I hope I don't mangle too many of those. â€¦ And there's a great staff there. I trust that they will keep me honest, and help me as well."
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