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I’ve been blessed with, and am always grateful for, a media career that has now spanned more than four and a half decades.

The opportunities I’ve had as a television and radio reporter, a radio talk show host, a newspaper and magazine writer, a media advertising manager, a blogger and a local television news director have taught me many lessons and formed my core principles about truth-telling.

I’d like to share with you some excerpts from a “Reporter’s Handbook” I composed and distributed to the news staffs I had the privilege and responsibility of supervising. Many of these observations reflect the seismic changes I have observed in the national media landscape over the last half-century.

THE “VALUE PROPOSITION”

Covering day-to-day news is of course necessary, but it’s insufficient. If ALL we do is cover the day’s news, we will fail our audience, our company, our station and our profession. “The day’s news” is now available and accessible to all, anytime, from a variety of different sources and media outlets. Our goal and commitment must always be to generate original, branded, relevant and layered content that is unique to our station and unavailable on any other news outlet in our market.

“Who, what, where and when” are of course foundational staples of good reporting, but we must in all stories move beyond that to include “why, how, and with what impact and effect.”

If a story has no impact and effect, it is not worth reporting and not worth our audience’s time.

BREAKING NEWS

We must never fail. Our “batting average” must be 1.000. Success requires vigilance, planning, sourcing and anticipation. Failing even once is once too often. Viewers remember which news sources served them and which failed them in covering breaking news.

PROFESSIONALISM

Is measured by consistency. The greater the gap between our very best day and our very worst day, the less professional we are. The smaller the gap between our very best day and our very worst day, the more professional we are. With true “pros,” the only person even aware of the difference between “best” and “worst” is that person himself or herself.

We are humans. Things happen in our lives. Your news director is your biggest fan, and is always empathetic about your concerns and what is going on in your lives at any given point in time. We care. I care.

But our audience doesn’t care. And should not have to care. It is frankly not their problem. We must deliver the news. Every day. Without deviation. No matter what.

DON’T DROP THE BATON!

News outlets, particularly local television stations, very often fail to follow up on their own well-done, relevant, compelling stories. Such a story needn’t and shouldn’t be a “one and done.” Good stories always warrant follow-ups. What next? Now what?

GOOD NEWS OUTLETS…

Accurately describe events and conditions as they are.

GREAT NEWS OUTLETS…

Accurately describe events and conditions as they are, and then go on to get ahead of the impact and results of those events and conditions. Like great chess players, great journalists always look “three moves ahead.”

ALL STORIES ARE “PEOPLE STORIES”!

Our job is to depict, describe, document, frame and translate The Human Experience. Any story that goes to do that, and does not explain its impact on people, is not journalism. It’s a press release.

CURIOSITY…

May have killed the cat, but it is the lifeblood of good reporters and good newsrooms.

More excerpts from The Handbook tomorrow, including, “Established facts require no ‘balance’.” Facts ARE balance.

I’m very much hoping these observations will spark robust examination and discussion.

But in closing today, this has always been my News Credo.

  1. Tell the truth,
  2. Never deviate from “1.”

If and when we make an honest, full-speed mistake, we will own it, admit it, correct it and learn from it. Transparency establishes credibility.

2 Responses

  1. There is so much to “un-pack” here and so much I agree with that I will cherry pick a few things and go from there. While I certainly agree, wholeheartedly, for the need for professionalism and batting 1.000 when covering breaking news, something else really jumped off the page at me:
    “News outlets, particularly local television stations, very often fail to follow up…..”
    To me that is where we must remain vigilant. In broadcast news, no matter the platform, we do NOT operate in a “daily silo.” Too often when the day is done, so are the stories we covered THAT day. We move on. There are so many stories that should be followed up. But it seems to me we fail at that follow-up. We could make our industry better if we stopped, checked up on what we’d covered in the past, and looked for new angles. We are missing some great stories.

    1. Yes. Sometimes I think we’re our own worst enemies. Presumably any story we do is based on its future impact, right? So “one and done” leaves the job unfinished.

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Paul's Bio

I clearly have the attention span of your median fruit fly.Look! Airplane!

Sorry. I’m back.

It’s both a curse and a blessing. I’ve never bought this stuff about, “He who dies with the most toys wins.” But I do think that a wide range of life experiences helps us grow as people, and helps us better relate to other people. I’ve been fortunate. And I am beyond grateful.

I show up on time. I go like hell. I’m a good listener. I hold myself accountable. I own my mistakes. And I have a natural and an insatiable curiosity. I’m never afraid to say, “I don’t know,” when I don’t. But then I try to find out.

The flip side is I’m a lousy ballroom dancer and my clothes sometimes fit me funny.

Stuff matters to me. I care. But while I take that stuff seriously, I try hard to never take myself seriously. As a result, I have sometimes been told, “Paul, it’s hard to tell when you’re serious and when you’re just having some fun. Which is it? Serious or fun?”

My answer is “yes.” But I think that is a legitimate criticism. I promise I’m going to work on that.

This has been the quickest and strangest half-century I’ve ever experienced. During that period, I’ve been afforded amazing opportunities in news and sports journalism across all platforms. I have taught wonderful students at the high school and collegiate level. Always, I learned more from them than they did from me. I’ve been a high school administrator. I spent ten seasons as a high school varsity football coach. I’ve been an advertising executive. I’ve hosted nationally syndicated television entertainment shows. In maybe the biggest honor I ever received, I was selected by NASA to be “Chet The Astronaut” for the “Land The Shuttle” simulator at Space Center Houston. (All I can say there, is “Do as I say, not as I do.” I put that thing in the Everglades more often than not.) Most recently, I just wrapped up a decade as a television news director, during which time our teams distinguished themselves in holding the powerful accountable, achieving both critical and ratings success.

What does all that mean? It means I am profoundly grateful. It also means I’m ready for “next.” So here we are. Radically Rational. It’s an idea I woke up with in 2017. I scribbled “Radically Rational” on a piece of notebook paper and used a magnet to stick it on our refrigerator. I saw it every day, and it just would not leave me alone.

I am second in charge at Radically Rational, LLC. My wife, Jo (also known as BB), is the president. Clearly, I have failed in my attempt to sleep my way to the top of this organization.

I hope you will learn that I’m loyal as a Labrador. But I will admit that this doggie can bite every now and then. My promise to you? I will show up on time. I will go like hell. I will listen to you earnestly and attentively. I will hold myself accountable. I will never be the least bit hesitant to say, “I don’t know,” when I don’t.

But then I’ll try to find out. Let’s do it.