Office of Communications welcomes new voice of diocese

by PATRICK J. BUECHI
Tue, Jun 7th 2016 09:00 am
Staff Reporter
At a staff meeting, George Richert (right), director of the Office of Communications, gives an update on projects and ideas on which the staff is working. (Patrick McPartland/Staff Photographer)
At a staff meeting, George Richert (right), director of the Office of Communications, gives an update on projects and ideas on which the staff is working. (Patrick McPartland/Staff Photographer)

George Richert has gone from reporting the news to making sure the Good News gets reported. The former Channel 4 personality became the director of Communications for the Diocese of Buffalo this past March. Richert, 49, fills a spot left vacant since Kevin Keenan's departure in 2011.

Richert, who grew up around the Kensington-Bailey neighborhood, is proud of the fact that he never left the Buffalo area. He attended St. James School and St. Joseph Collegiate Institute in Kenmore, followed by four years at Buffalo State College, where he studied JBS - Journalism, Broadcast and Speech, with dreams of being the next Snortin' Norton.

"All through high school I thought I wanted to be a DJ," he said from his new office, dressed a bit too sharp for the rock and roll lifestyle, in a crisp white shirt and khakis. "I wanted to be like a 97 Rock DJ. I was really into music and rock, and I thought it would be cool to be a DJ. So, I went to Buffalo State planning to study broadcasting with the purpose of being a DJ."

Halfway through his freshman year, a neighbor, who happened to work at Channel 4, asked the young student if he wanted an internship. "I thought, 'News? Yeah, that might be cool.' So, I got an internship my freshman year. I loved the excitement of it. I wasn't even getting credit for it because I was only a freshman, but I stayed for a year. That got me hooked on news. I thought it would be more exciting than being a DJ," he explained.

That same attitude seems to carry though his work in the diocese. With every suggestion from his staff, he takes a moment to think, and with a half smile and spark in his eye, he'll say, "Yeah, let's do it."

He began his on-air career at the bottom - radio news. Professionally, he spent 10 years in radio working his way across the AM dial, starting as an airborne traffic reporter for WGR in 1988, then moving to reporting jobs at WWKB, WEBR, then WBEN.

"(In radio), you're kind of a one-man band, where you cover it yourself. You go out to a scene, and you have to write a story by the top of the hour. A lot of times you have to tell the story over the phone. It trained me to write fast, because every hour I had to do a report. Or if I was the anchor in radio, every hour I had to write five stories. That was my impression of radio," he said.

In 1998, he moved to television and back to Channel 4.

"The first year was behind the scenes, but after a year I got my crack on TV. The rest is News 4 history. Seventeen years total there just being a street reporter, reporting inside or outside, whatever needed to be reported on."

In television, he worked with a videographer shooting the scene while Richert gave a report. "A picture is worth a thousand words, so the beauty of moving from radio to television was that was a thousand less words that I had to say every three seconds. The pictures helped me tell the story in a better way," he said.

As a street reporter, he would be called to cover the often tragic, sometimes gory, breaking news of car accidents and home fires, which he actually liked to cover.

"I felt most comfortable arriving on a breaking news scene and just describing what I see and what I know," he explained.

One story that has remained clear in his mind is that of Army Sgt. James Hackemer, a Gowanda native who fought in Iraq and lost both his legs in a Humvee explosion in 2007. He died twice on the battlefield that day and swears he saw heaven and hell.

"He described to me a year later, in his living room on television, his vivid description of heaven and hell," Richert recalled. "That struck me. His family left an impression on me because of how faithful they were and how they rallied around him to take care of him. It was a new life for the whole family, but they had such great faith in God."

After the accident, Hackemer wanted to live life to the fullest. Three years later he went to Darien Lake to take a spin on the "Ride of Steel" rollercoaster, which is not built for a double amputee. He fell out and died. Richert went to the scene to cover the story, but did not realize who the victim was until he ran into his family in an elevator at the park.
"It left a real impression on me," he said.

When the diocese began a search for a new communications director, Richert was also looking for something new, but he wasn't sure what. Tired of TV news, he didn't know what to look for in a new career. He didn't even open up the want ads. Then all of a sudden in January, a friend alerted me to this job opening, and it felt like a good fit.

"The news has changed a lot over the years. I think I have kind of changed as well," he said. "It was 20 different reasons that I became less satisfied doing the news. I got tired of always chasing negative stories, and the idea of being able to tell more positive stories and stories for the Church and for God. I thought, and can now confirm, (this job) is more satisfying for me," he said. "This job has really helped me to get closer to my faith. Just to apply for this job I had to do a quick study on my own faith, and I like everything I'm relearning."

In his new role, Richert serves as spokesperson for Bishop Richard J. Malone and the diocese, as well as overseeing the Western New York Catholic, Daybreak TV Productions, diocesan radio programing, the Catholic Directory, public relations, and social media.

Shortly after he joined the staff, he had a baptism by fire, quite literally, when St. Joseph Cathedral, located a couple miles from the Catholic Center offices, caught fire. It is believed that combustibles were left too close to a light ballast by a crew remodeling the stained glass windows. Three pews were badly damaged.

"It was April Fool's Day. I didn't think it was a joke, but I was getting calls from the media at sunrise about a fire at St. Joseph Cathedral. I headed that way, got there, got the facts. They were all waiting outside while the fire department was still inside. I found out how it happened and what was going on. The media all wanted whatever they could find out, so I spent 10 minutes gathering information inside, then went outside and was interviewed by four TV stations," he said.

Richert fell into his old habits and reported the story, only to other reporters, rather than his own cameraman.

A couple months into the job, things are going well.

"Everybody is so nice here, and they're in it for the right reasons," he said. "I didn't realize how far reaching this Communications Department really is, how many things we delve into, not just the Western New York Catholic, but Daybreak TV and how far that goes, and our websites and social media. There is really no limit to how far we can reach."

"George has a deep and strong Catholic faith which makes him an ideal communications director," said Bishop Richard J. Malone, at the time of Richert's hiring. "He has a strong understanding of the news media in the digital age, is well respected in the community, among his viewers, the sources he's covered, and his fellow journalists.  I look forward to working with George as we evangelize and work to build up the Kingdom of God here in the Diocese of Buffalo."

Richert lives in Springville with his wife, Hedyanne, and teenaged kids, Jack and Miranda, who all attend St. Aloysius Parish.   

The Catholic Communication Campaign helps us to grow in faith, worship, and witness. The collection will take place in most parishes the weekend of June 11-12. To donate online, click here.

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