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WCNC parts ways with long-time investigative reporter

Friday was Stuart Watson's last day at WCNC (Channel 36), fired after 16 years and some of the biggest scoops in Charlotte.

"There are people who are much better than I am who are facing the exact same thing because of what's called 'newsanomics' -- the profound upheaval in our business model," Watson said Friday night referring to the economic headwinds tearing nowadays through traditional media outlets.

"I don't think this is personal, nor do I take it as personal."

Watson, who came to town in January 1999 from WRAL (Channel 5) in Raleigh, is the most senior personality to depart from the station since it was acquired by Gannett Broadcasting a year ago.

He was involved in dozens of high-profile stories in Charlotte, but the three with the most impact had a common thread -- money.

One was the story he broke in 2013 that revealed that prominent pastor Steven Furtick of Elevation Church was building himself a mansion in Waxhaw valued on the tax rolls at $1.6 million.

In 2008, acting on an anonymous tip mailed in by a viewer he's never talked to, Watson found that United Way CEO Gloria Pace King was making more than $1 million in pay and benefits.

When United Way balked at his requests for executive committee minutes and other documents, Watson put together a series of clips in which charity officials spoke of the importance of "transparency" to maintain the public trust.

He ran them back to back, officials saying 'Transparency,' one after another another. And then he had the last words: "Except when you ask."

Donations plunged and Pace was replaced.

But his most important story came in 2004 when he revealed that the now-defunct Medicaid Dental Centers chain in North Carolina was providing unnecessary dental work on poor children for Medicaid payouts, including stainless steel crowns and root canals on baby teeth.

Nine dentists were disciplined and the centers ultimately settled with the government for $10 million.

On Friday, Watson said, he was at the Catholic Diocese doing a story on an employee who posted on his Facebook page that he planned to marry his gay partner of 11 years, then found himself suddenly without a job.

"I hope they'll air that the first part of next week," said Watson.

After he returned to the station, he was called in and told that his contract, which is up in February, would not be renewed. "Different philosophies," he said. "That was the stated reason."

His termination didn't come entirely as a surprise, he said. There had been no talks with the station on a new contract to take effect after his present three-year deal expired.

Watson won't be working the last month of his contract. "I am finished," he said. "That's what I'm told."

Watson has been a member of IRE, the news industry's trade group for investigative reporters and editors, since 1986 and has served on its board three terms.

He collected 10 regional Emmy Awards during his career and is nominated for five more at this year's ceremony later this month. He's also won two duPont-Columbia awards, three Peabodies, two National Headliner awards and an Edward R. Murrow award each year since 2011.

"I think the quantity of reporting was there, and the quality of the reporting was there," said Watson.

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