WEAU 13 News Director John Hoffland passes away

By: WEAU 13 News Staff Email
By: WEAU 13 News Staff Email

Funeral arrangements have been made. A visitation and a memorial service will be held Wednesday July 8th for John at Immanual Lutheran Church, on 3214 Golf Road in Eau Claire.

The visitation will be held from 10 A.M. to 1 P.M., and the memorial service will follow at 1 P.M.

There will also be an Honor Guard with a 21 gun salute and presentation of a flag to John's wife Penny.

Penny and Lukas want to invite everyone to celebrate John's life with them on Wednesday.

John Hoffland, News Director at WEAU-TV for 25 years, passed away suddenly Saturday morning after having a heart attack at his home in Eau Claire. He was 64.

John was a US Army veteran who served in Vietnam. After his service, he went into journalism and was a radio and television reporter in La Crosse and eastern Iowa. In 1978 John became the first news producer at WEAU, later being named News Director.

John was instrumental in teaching young journalists, many fresh out of college, how to cover news, weather and sports. He always maintained his sense of fairness and every decision made was based on what is best for the station, and the community it serves.

In 1981, his vision led to a new newscast at 5:00pm each day, which is now a mainstay in virtually every city in the nation.

In 2002, John was honored with the Carol Brewer Award for his years of outstanding service to broadcast journalism.

John is survived by his wife Penny, son Lukas and his beloved dog Capi. John was 64 years old.

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In 2007, John retired (or tried to anyway) from WEAU 13 News. A year later, he was back doing what he loved. When he retired, Judy Clark put together this tribute to his career. We’re sharing it again now in his memory:

A television newsroom is a busy place with phones, a scanner, televisions and questions all vying for attention. And amid what sometimes can be called chaos at TV 13, there is John Hoffland, the guiding force, the fearless leader, the storyteller…

Like any news director, John Hoffland rose through the ranks. He was a radio and television reporter in La Crosse and eastern Iowa and then in 1978, he became WEAU’s first news producer.

“I always thought I’d give this a try," John said.

29 years later, 23 as news director, John did more than try. Mike Rindo was an anchor here at WEAU for 11 years and worked with John in those early years.

“John came in and he actually ushered in a more modern news era to the local news scene and so by doing he was really a leader in the newsroom," Rindo says.

When John began his career at TV 13, there were just a few newscasts. He even anchored some of them. He started up the first 5:00 p.m. newscast in our market in 1981 and many more have followed.

In recent years, John's on-air regimen consisted mainly of weekly commentaries..award-winning commentaries we might add. But to John, being successful all comes down to one thing

“First and foremost is excellence in coverage, superior coverage, thoroughness in coverage and then attract like-minded people who have the same feeling and sentiment," John said.

John has had to attract many people to TV 13 over the years. As a small market station, this is typically the first post-collegiate job for many wanna-be journalists, so John's job as news director takes on the role of not just boss, but mentor and teacher as well.

"I can honestly say that not a day goes by that I don't use something that I learned from John Hoffland," CNBC reporter Scott Cohn says.

Scott Cohn was a reporter, and one of the first 5:00 news anchors back in the early 80's.
Cohn is now senior correspondent at CNBC in New York

“He was always a step ahead of things,” Cohn says. “He would say to us, ‘We're sandwiched between network entertainment. We don't have to become PBS for a half hour’ which didn't mean that we had to be crazy and tabloid as some have done. It just meant that (we should) use the medium to its potential," Cohn says.

There are people in TV stations all over the country who can point to John Hoffland as giving them that break, giving them a chance. In that way John Hoffland has had an impact on journalism not just in this part of the state but in this part of the country.

"You know people are going to leave and move on and that's fine. I don't worry about that- I never got frustrated about that but rather trying to find the right people to do these jobs. Frankly I’ve been largely blessed with that. I feel fortunate," John said.

Besides the hiring a news director has to deal with, there are, of course, the stories. And of all the major stories that happened in western Wisconsin over the past 25 years, John points to one in particular

“The closing of Uniroyal in 1991 is one of the first major stories that we were wall-to-wall on,” John said.

In the early days, John says the coverage of a story like Uniroyal wouldn't have been as intense, but he says that's changed and he says viewers want more information particularly on a local level.

Keeping up with news trends, technology, and ratings are all parts of the news director's job and if all of this sounds stressful, it is. That's why, according to the Radio Television News Directors Association, the average tenure for a news director in the United States is two years. That made John Hoffland at 25 years remarkable.

“A lot of people in other markets and other station have come and gone but John has been steady, really an icon I think in the upper Midwest in terms of his leadership in news,” Mike Rindo says.

To John, it's all in a day's work

"In totality, it's been the people. In all seriousness, it's been the people all the way around. Sure you get around with a little technology here and there but still the people you work with and the people you bring to a place of work to make the whole thing work. That's been the most fun, no question about it. No question about it,” John said.


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  • by Gloria Grimsrud Location: Victoria, MN on Jul 26, 2009 at 10:17 PM
    I first noticed John in college history class and was so impressed with his questions to Dr. Voight, the professor. I later got to know him outside the classroom and discovered his wonderful humor and laugh. We had a date once too. He borrowed a friend's Corvette and we "tooled" (one of his words) down the Great River Road in it thinking we were pretty cool (in a borrowed car!) I saw him in LaCrosse in 2001 on the Mississippi Queen as we were boarding and he and his son were getting off....it had been years; he had white hair. I really never knew him as anything other than a college student, but reading all these tributes tells me he left his mark professionally and otherwise. Did anyone ever hear him say "the school buses are rolling and the hot lunch program is in session"...whataguy!
  • by Jason Pederson Location: Little Rock on Jul 15, 2009 at 03:29 PM
    When I graduated from UW-River Falls in 1992 Eau Claire was naturally one of the first markets I applied to. Mr. Hoffland did not hire me (neither did about 30 other news directors) but I do recall that he offered me some constructive criticism and encouragement. Although I never met John, I believe his kind words helped me endure further rejection until I was eventually hired here in Arkansas...where I have been reporting the news here for 16 years. I'm sure there were many others he inspired as well.
  • by dianne Location: Dallas, TX on Jul 9, 2009 at 10:24 PM
    The news world has lost a good journalist. Unfortunately I could have used his skills in my posting since I had a copy error. I did not mean to print the Marine mantra...dianne ashbeck kennedy
  • by dianne Location: Dallas, TX on Jul 8, 2009 at 06:50 PM
    Unbelievable. I worked with John in La Crosse in the 70's and I have not followed his career, but when I read what his team and friends have written it is easy to see that John never veered from his principles, his ideals, his ethics, nor did his sense of humor change. I left the news business when we worked together in La Crosse for a number of reasons. It is so comforting to know that there were and are news people with his characteristics...and his legacy lives on. Thank God for people like John Hoffland, I learned about news, about partying with friends, alcohol included, and perspective from him. Semper Fi. My deepest sympathies to his family...what a loss. dianne ashbeck-kennedy
  • by John Denney Location: Dallas, TX on Jul 8, 2009 at 10:22 AM
    I don't know anyone who loved journalism more than John. We would meet each year at a journalism conference in Minneapolis and inevitably, we would be up most of the night with John leading the debate on an ethics question. He challenged all of us to maintain the standards to merit the public's trust in our work. His love for the craft will be missed.
  • by Linda Location: Eau Claire on Jul 7, 2009 at 11:51 AM
    In 2004 my Granddaughter casually mentioned that if there were any celebrities she would want to meet it would be the Channel 13 crew. Her 9th birthday was the next day so I called the station and asked if there was a possiblity she could come for a little tour. John Hoffland was so kind and said absolutely! We finally worked out a later date and he couldn't have been nicer to her. We got a "private" tour and he patiently explained the workings of the station. He even let her sit in the "anchor" chair and have her picture taken with him. He introduced her to Sean Verbotten, then had her picture taken with Pat Kreitlow and Judy Clark.It was a wonderful day for her and his kindness will always be remembered by us.
  • by Al Setka Location: Des Moines on Jul 7, 2009 at 10:24 AM
    John's passion and perspective made the world of television news a much better place and is evident in the women and men working today in newsrooms throughout the country.
  • by Barb Haig Location: Milwaukee on Jul 7, 2009 at 06:01 AM
    Such bittersweet memories reading through these comments - these classic moments will last forever: John helping us learn the transition from film to video, John smoking up a storm as we worked late on election nights, John patiently critiquing a boring Chippewa County Board story... One of my fondest Eau Claire memories was at Hooligans watching Walter Cronkite's last newscast. It was a passing of an era, as is this.
  • by Kevin Hunt Location: Farmington, MN on Jul 6, 2009 at 11:46 PM
    John Hoffland gave me, and so many others, the foundation for how a TV newsroom should work. Yes, he told stories. But he also was a boss who listened, no matter what time or day of the week, and helped me gain more confidence to do my job. He loved the news. He loved teaching us how to report it. I feel fortunate that my first stop out of college was in John's newsroom.
  • by Jeff Karnowski Location: Phoenix on Jul 6, 2009 at 10:19 PM
    My condolences to John's family as well as his TV family at WEAU. I met John 25 years ago when I was young reporter and he was a manager at WITI in Milwaukee. He was kind enough to take time to look at my tape and give me suggestioin on improving my work. We kept in touch over the years through RTNDA and recently we would talk as he made arrangments with for his sports reporter to come to in Phoenix and feed from the NBC station in while covering the Brewers in Spring Training. John you will be missed.
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