Tim Fleischer, WABC/7's veteran street reporter — and a particularly prolific one in the late '90s as the station's Long Island reporter based out of the Mineola bureau — announced his retirement from the station Friday.
In on-air tributes, Fleischer, 66, was called the longest-running street reporter in the history of channel 7's "Eyewitness News." The "Eyewitness" format arrived at WABC/7 in 1968, and Fleischer in 1985. Aside from a four-year stint with "Eyewitness News This Morning" and a brief run as weekend anchor, Fleischer has been on the street for most of his time at WABC. He was also channel 7's only reporter to have served as bureau chief on Long Island, New Jersey and Westchester, where he now lives.
In a phone interview, he called his departure an "accumulation of things … My wife and I are building a home in western New York, where our family is from — northeast of Buffalo, in Lockport — so we just felt it was probably the right time and the stars were aligning." He said he had two years left on his current contract.
Since March, Fleischer has been reporting via Zoom from his home, "and it wasn't that I didn't want to do it anymore, [but] I was wondering where we were going to go with it — not so much WABC, but the whole pandemic [and] how long this will continue was a question raised in my mind."
Fleischer said it would have been possible in theory to continue working from western New York "but it wasn't really fair to viewers. If you're not in New York City, are you really in tune with what's happening there? If you're not standing the middle of that street, you gotta be somewhere near it."
Fleischer stood in thousands of streets over a 40-year career, the vast majority of them in New York, with stops in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Buffalo and Pittsburgh.
Fleischer recalled that he had been New Jersey bureau chief when "the station news director called and said 'I need you to go to Long Island. Give it a couple weeks.' Two months later I called back and said, 'That's the longest two weeks I've ever spent anywhere.' He said 'I need you to stay' and I said that was OK."
He said his four-person team — bureau manager Vicki Metz, cameramen Matt Anderson and Ron Steryk — covered Long Island "end to end," filing two stories a day. "We had Joey Buttafuoco, red-bag [biomedical] waste washing up on the beaches [and] TWA Flight 800," which crashed into the Atlantic Ocean off East Moriches on July 17, 1996, killing 230 passengers and crew. He was a Folio Award-winner for multipart series on the decline of Long Island's aerospace industry and Federal pollution laws.
He called his Long Island tenure "the most intense" of his career as bureau chief/reporter. "Long Island is more diverse, its geography is more diverse, and the issues that the different towns faced in these two truly enormously large counties [yielded] all kinds of stories. To me it was always fascinating."
A native of Louisville, Kentucky, Fleischer said he won't stop reporting entirely: "I'm interested in doing some video stories based on some historical elements tied to western New York," which he will post on YouTube and other social media outlets.