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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