Channel 4 launching "The Buffalo Story;" documentary touches on Love Canal other big stories

·4 min read

Jun. 5—Rich Newberg just can't throw things away.

For close to half a century he has collected the facts, found the pictures and pieced together the stories that have shaped the history of Western New York.

"I save everything," he said with a laugh. "I can't throw out anything. When you accumulate 46 years of reports, you need to see what you've got and see it's value to self-discovery."

Monday night, Newberg, along with News 4 Buffalo anchor Jacquie Walker, and award-winning former News 4 Videographer Tom Vetter will take viewers in the Niagara Region and across Western New York on an adventure in discovery when they premier the documentary "The Buffalo Story: History Happens Here".

The program airs at 8 p.m. on WIVB TV, channel 4 on most local cable and satellite providers.

Put together during a worldwide pandemic, the one-hour documentary has been a "labor of love" for Newberg and Vetter.

"No question about it," said Newberg, who retired in 2015 after a decades long career at News 4 as a weekend anchor and senior reporter. "When I retired I told the viewers my passion was in documentaries."

In particular, Newberg wanted to take advantage of an opportunity presented by the Buffalo Broadcasters Association, which has been acquiring a vast trove of historical film and video archives from the city's three major television stations.

"We need to use the archival television news and videotape to show to show future generations what their history was," Newberg said."I felt the work of broadcast journalists in Buffalo merited a revisiting. This is a time of soul searching and there is no better time to revisit our storied history."

Newberg noted that in every Buffalo television newsroom, "human antennas fly up" the minute a major event unfolds anywhere in the world because "there is bound to be a Buffalo connection!" The veteran journalist also said that events in Western New York can sometimes have a ripple effect that sweeps across the nation and the globe.

"It's one thing to read about Buffalo's roots in the civil rights movement and the toxic disaster in the Love Canal neighborhood," Newberg said. "To actually see the stories unfold is quite another. These are teachable moments and take on added significance based on the issues of racial and environmental injustice that are now tearing our country apart."

Producing the program at a time when in-person contact was limited presented unique challenges. Newberg said he and Vetter worked exclusively through ZOOM streams to put the program together.

Walker who co-produced "The Buffalo Story" along with Vetter and Newburg, said the program, provides a generation look at local history.

"Rich Newberg and Tom Vetter have used their decades of experience to present Buffalo's story in a way you've never seen it before," Walker said, "because even those of us who work in television news haven't seen it presented quite like this. The Bills Super Bowls, the closing of Bethlehem Steel, the search for the .22 caliber killer — it's all there, in context, and with details that might be lost to history, if not for these moving images that must be saved."

Newberg is hoping the documentary will inspire support for the work of the broadcasters association to save the local film and video archives.

"They have a limited shelf life and must be digitally converted in order to be preserved," Newberg said. "It's a costly process and the BBA needs support from the community to make it happen on a large scale."

Newberg said his plunge into the archives led him to rare footage from the Love Canal disaster, including visits by actress and activist Jane Fonda and President Jimmy Carter. Newberg and Vetter interviewed environmental activist Lois Gibbs, who succeeded in having Love Canal families moved out of the former dumpsite where some of the 20,000 tons of buried toxic chemicals began seeping into homes and schools.

The program also features an exclusive interview with former Niagara Gazette reporter Michael Brown. Brown, then a "cub reporter" at the Gazette broke the Love Canal story.

Brown told Newberg how he went door-to-door in the Love Canal neighborhood telling the stories of the families who lived there and suffered from the effects of chemical exposure.

"This shows the value that broadcast journalists bring to the community," Newberg said. "The big picture reveals the history of a resilient people who have overcome great odds time and time again, sometimes working to make the world a better place."


—"The Buffalo Story: History Happens Here" airs on WIVB-TV Monday night at 8 p.m.

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