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Rich Newberg signs off Buffalo TV news after 37 years

Michael Mroziak, WBFO

As 2015 winds down, a longtime giant in Buffalo television news is wrapping up a career than spans 46 years, 37 of which were spent at WIVB-TV. Rich Newberg will be remembered by viewers - and those who worked with him - as a journalist who sought stories that kept humanity front and center.

Newberg, a 1969 graduate of Ithaca College, began his career with a cable television news operation in Ithaca before working in Syracuse, Rochester and Chicago. Then, in 1978, he was hired by Channel 4 in Buffalo. Since then, he chased what he described as "the Buffalo story," even in other parts of the world including China, Poland, Italy, Cuba, Panama and the Persian Gulf.

"I think we were privileged to work in the golden age of reporting, where there were budgets, there was a will to follow the Buffalo story wherever it took us," Newberg told WBFO.

He stood face to face with some of the world's most influential people, including Pope John Paul II. But the videographers who worked with him say what mattered more to Newberg were the stories of society's forgotten ones, those who fell through the cracks for one reason or another. 

"To Rich, it doesn't matter if it's a huge story or a small story," said Mike Mombrea, Jr., a veteran photojournalist who is one of Newberg's longtime partners in the field. "There all the same to him as far as what he cares about. He could do the pope on one trip but the person on the street is just as important to him."

Former WIVB photojournalist Tom Vetter, another longtime partner in the field, pointed out Newberg's compassion on stories that involved some of Buffalo's less powerful individuals, including psychiatric patients, developmentally disabled persons and the homeless, all of whom were subjects of Newberg longform stories.

Credit Michael Mroziak, WBFO
Rich Newberg looks at a photograph taken while he and photojournalist Mike Mombrea, Jr. were in Poland to produce "Lost Childhood: The Story of the Birkenau Boys," a documentary about Holocaust survivors who returned to the camp many years later. The documentary won an Emmy Award in 1996.

"It was always Rich's idea that the next time you step past a homeless person, maybe you would look down on them and think 'that's my neighbor, that's a community member, that's a real human being'," Vetter said.

Newberg credited former WIVB news director and general manager Chris Musial for supporting his longform journalism, which included pieces featuring local men with Down's Syndrome who build cradles that were distributed to single mothers, local Holocaust survivors (with whom Newberg worked in the field with Dan Summerville), and later a trip to O?wi?cim, Poland, the site of the infamous Auschwitz-Birkenau camp operated by Nazi Germany. The documentary he produced there, "Lost Childhood: the Story of the Birkenau Boys," earned Newberg an Emmy award in 1996.

For Newberg, who is Jewish, that story was personal. But while he calls the Holocaust the most important story of our civilization, he was equally passionate about telling the tales from Buffalo's streets.

Credit courtesy Rich Newberg
Rich Newberg in his early years at Channel 4. He is seated at left and in discussion with the man who would later become his longtime news director and general manager, Chris Musial.

"I think the most important charge I have as a journalist is to address the social issues of the community," said Newberg. "And we have so many in Buffalo. We have a crisis in education. We have crime and gang warfare. We have poverty. We have great issues that are debated in the street."

Michael Mroziak is an experienced, award-winning reporter whose career includes work in broadcast and print media. When he joined the WBFO news staff in April 2015, it was a return to both the radio station and to Horizons Plaza.