Channel 9’s executive producer of special projects has reached the end of the road in his current role for WFTV.
By Jacob Engels
I have thought off and on about publishing this article for several months now, but decided in our new year, that we must.
Several months ago, when the East Orlando Post scooped every news organization in the world exposing State Attorney Jeff Ashton’s use of extra-marital hookup site Ashley Madison, we fielded hundreds of interviews and had a very busy 72 hours.
Of all the local television stations, WFTV was the last one to ask us for comment, and one of the toughest to get to give us due credit in their reporting on Jeff Ashton. You see, WFTV has a history of reporting days old news as a “9 Investigates” special report. It’s happened to all publications in Orlando: Orlando Sentinel, Central Florida Future, News 13, Orlando Weekly, and many others.
While not giving attribution is unacceptable, I generally believe WFTV to be misguided and not malevolent. The man at the center of those misguided decisions is often “special projects” producer Anthony Colarossi. Mr. Colarossi, who worked for over a decade as a reporter at Orlando Sentinel before joining WFTV, unfortunately seems to not value the work of his counterparts at rival news outlets or publications.
Don’t get me wrong, WFTV has some great talent, Vanessa Echols, Ken Tyndall, and Daralene Jones being far and away my favorites. They respect the process, report fairly, and do not try to make news reported on first by others their own.
Anthony Colarossi is no Vanessa Echols.
When we broke the story on State Attorney Jeff Ashton, WFTV was slow to respond and reach out to us for an interview. Eventually, we received a call and voicemail from Mr. Colarossi. Initially, we were apprehensive after having to fight to get due credit for the story in WFTV’s coverage, but I elected to give him a call back.
From the onset of our conversation, Mr. Colarossi began demanding to know who gave me the information on Ashton. He insinuated that our report was false, politically motivated, and paid for by opponents of the State Attorney who sought to embarrass him.
After I told him that he was out of line and inquired if this was a “9 Investigates” story on me or a request to meet and discuss the Ashton story, he became offended and aggressive.
Even then, I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and meet. Ashton was guilty, but that was not the story Colarossi wanted. However after repeated personal insults, focus on denigrating our being the first outlet to break the story, and an overall disrespectful attitude, I elected to not participate in the interview.
He was upset, and incessantly texted and called for days on end, desperately attempting to get me to participate in his dog and pony show. I did not.
Months later, while covering the Orlando Mayor’s race and embedding with challenger Paul Paulson, I arrived at WFTV to attend the taping for their candidate debate. Mayor Buddy Dyer was as smarmy as ever, with his arm wrapped tight around his aide Georgina’s arm in a oddly intimate manner.
Sunshine Linda-Marie Grund was seated civilly with her better half. Then, Mr. Colarossi emerged from the inner sanctum of the WFTV newsroom. Obviously perturbed about my presence, he reluctantly welcomed me into the newsroom before abruptly stopping me.
“You can’t go back there. We aren’t allowing anyone else in during the taping.
“I just don’t want any tweeting or recording,” he said. I replied that I would gladly turn off my phone and refrain from using it for the duration, which is when it became clear that Anthony had an ulterior motive.
“No, you are not coming back there. This is our story,” he concluded.
Mayoral candidate Sunshine Grund was visibly upset and said, “Are you kidding me?”, before I elected to be civil and walk away.
After we were out of earshot of any other WFTV staff, Mr. Colarossi broke the personal barrier and said the following.
“This is our fucking story and you will not ruin it,” reeking of what smelled like cheap whiskey. He is a four roses guy, or so I hear.
I then retorted that he must still be mad about being scooped on the Jeff Ashton story and the fact that I deprived him of the witch-hunt and spectacle he wanted to create by making it about me. He then asked me to sit in the waiting area, before instructing the onsite security staff to bar me entry from using the restroom, asking me to wait outside, then telling me I had to reside in my vehicle until the taping was over.
Petty, immature, and possibly being drunk on the job don’t excuse Mr. Colarossi of representing his employer in such a skeezy and classless manner.
“Anthony was very unnerved and on edge about Jacob’s presence. He had been stewing for months about being denied an opportunity to interview him during the Jeff Ashton story. He never let it go, it was kind of sad and we were all sick of hearing about it.
Management is upset, but won’t go public until they find a replacement,” confessed a high ranking employee with WFTV, who said they needed to remain anonymous, fearful of retribution.
As they get their house in order for 2016, they would be wise to look for another producing talent. Ken Tyndall, Jorge Estevez, Vanessa Echols, Daralene Jones and the rest of WFTV deserve and require someone much better in order to outpace the competition.
Orlando deserves better and so does WFTV.
Jacob Engels, is the Founder of East Orlando Post & Seminole County Post. He is a seasoned political operative who has led numerous statewide political groups and has worked on several high-profile local, statewide, and national races. Jacob has been interviewed on national television & radio programs, with his work having been featured in the Orlando Sentinel, New York Times, Washington Post, Miami Herald and other publications nationwide. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org