Tagged: observations

Podcast: Tales From the Beat-Weekly Look At News and PR From Both Sides

One of the features I write for Franco PR as their Integrated Media Consultant is a look at news and PR issues from both sides of the scrimmage line given my long experience in both journalism and corporate communications. Recently, I decided to add a podcast version that I’d love to share with you all.

You can now listen to Tales From the Beat on Spotify, IHeartRadio, Amazon Music and Apple Music.

Here’s the first one related to the recently revived Detroit Auto Show. Love to get your feedback. Thanks!

Retired For Six Years, It’s Time To Share The Beauty Of A Life Of Taking Chances Outside My Comfort Zone

Six years ago I swiped my Fiat Chrysler Automobiles badge for the last time, walked through the turnstile and extricated my Jeep Wrangler from the lowest level of the employee parking deck, drove home, poured myself a Jack Daniels on the rocks and told my wife I was now her slave for my remaining days.

I don’t think she was all that amused since I owned no particular skills that would benefit her aside from pushing a vacuum or unjustifiably killing spiders. But then again, I thought I could figure out whatever it is she wanted me to do in the future since I made a very nice living jumping into positions outside my comfort zone. I highly recommend it!

Here’s my long-ish story of a life totally enhanced simply by being willing to step outside my safe place—my comfort zone.

We can start with my very first shot at broadcasting. My brother and I used to make up fake radio shows using a music stand as a faux microphone and reading, singing (badly) popular songs using lyric sheets you could buy at the neighborhood candy store or newsstand. It was fun but I never thought of making it a career. Yet.

That changed when I entered college as a speech and theater major because I thought I could be an actor. Before I could audition for even one production, a month after arriving as a freshman, an upper classman decided I was funny and dragged me down to the campus radio station. He told the guy on the air at the time, “put my friend on the radio.”

He did. Gave me my own show. I was awful. I got better though and made the life-changing decision to pursue a broadcast career. That was pivot number one.

I worked in local radio in Central New York for a few years but that was a dead end. Pivot number two coming up. My wife and I decided we wanted to earn our Masters degrees, she in library science, me, in journalism because I loved news and to write and was better at it than making bad jokes as the goofy morning guy on the radio.

We planned well, quit our jobs, sold a lot of our stuff, put the rest on a moving van and hauled out to Tucson, Arizona to attend the University of Arizona and start new lives.

Single best move ever. She went to school full time, I went part-time and landed a radio job after a couple of days. It wasn’t because of my “talent.” The program director was intrigued that I typed my resume’ in blue instead of black.

“Who types in blue?” he asked. “I figured you had to be fun and different.” Whatever you say. I did morning drive until the program director quit and his replacement wanted my slot. I stayed for two more weeks.

Pivot number three. While I was working at the radio station I saw a notice on the wall in the UA journalism building the local ABC affiliate was looking for a weekend weather guy. Ha. Never did the weather, knew nothing about the weather, wanted the job.

I called the number, the news director granted me an audition and I took a couple of weather books from the library, cramming like it was finals to get just enough weather stuff in my head so I could fake it.

Worked out. Got the job. Now I was a weather guy…but I really wanted to be a reporter, so the assignment editor tossed some stories my way. One night the news director called me up and told me to meet him at a neighborhood bar in an hour. Over a couple of Olympias he told me one reporter quit and another got fired, so if I wanted a reporter job it was mine. I accepted without taking another sip.

It just gets better. About 18 months later our newscast producer with 20 years experience suddenly jumped to a station in Phoenix. News director calls me in. I’ll give you a six grand raise to ditch reporting and start producing.

I don’t know why he chose me but when you’re in the 82nd market six grand is a treasure so I took it. First night producing, President Reagan gets shot. The show didn’t crash. I didn’t get fired.

Six months later I get a tip CNN was starting a new network, what eventually became Headline News. Called the number I was given, flown out to Atlanta and got the job. They didn’t know I had only been producing newscasts for a few months but the boss liked my resume’ reel so I guess I fooled ’em.

Suddenly this green kid just in from Tucson is tossed into a 24-hour network newsroom tasked with producing big time broadcasts under massive time pressures and constantly changing conditions. Out of my comfort zone into an inferno. Didn’t get burned. Was promoted to the main network.

I still aspired to be a full-time reporter. Again, a sympathetic assignment editor came through, giving me stories during weekends. Bosses were happy. Gave me a full-time correspondent job out of the Southeast bureau based in Atlanta.

Ready for more? One day I see the anchor schedule on the bulletin board. I always looked there because I still produced occasionally and wanted to know who was anchoring my shows. Ha! I see my own name up there for the late night, west coast show. Well..I’d never anchored a full newscast in my life and now I was going to solo anchor a network show that included a live interview and audience call-ins.

So…okay! This comfort zone thing just seemed to have no boundaries. I guess I did well enough that they kept scheduling me to anchor. Until things changed again.

Not only did I prefer reporting but I aspired to be a bureau chief. I got wind the Detroit Bureau chief was being transferred overseas to Rome. I applied. Got it. Great job because you were both the BC and the correspondent and the team there was terrific.

All well and fine for the next 12 years until the disastrous merger between CNN and AOL. They ended up closing some small bureaus, including Detroit, laying off about 1,000 people. I was one of them.

Shit. Local stations wouldn’t hire me because I’m not really Mr. TV in terms of looks or flamboyance. Once local news director told me “not looking for journalists. We want street characters like you see in New York.”

Major comfort zone move. At the least I knew I was a good reporter and could write. Eternal thanks to Ed Lapham at Automotive News who made me a deal. He’d give me some stories to write on a freelance basis. If I passed the test, when a job opened I’d have a strong shot at it. Deal. Wrote a few, they like the stories, but there weren’t any available jobs.

Fair enough. The Associated Press chief of Detroit Bureau Charles Hill saw my resume on JournalismJobs.com. He needed a national auto write. We had a couple of lunches where he tried to figure out my real story and decide if an old TV guy could write for the wire. I didn’t enough know if I could write for the wire but boy, what an honor it would be to write for the AP knowing its reputation and exposure my stuff would get. I took a writing test and that, plus my performance at the lunches convinced him TV boy could do it.

Compared to a TV reporter package a wire story seems VERY LONG. So many words! I was allowed to use bigger ones too! But bless my editor Randy Berris who was extremely patient and instructive and turned me into a wire reporter.

Must have been OK. About 14 months after I started at the AP the auto editor at The Detroit News approached me about taking over the General Motors beat. I never worked at a newspaper but I was intrigued with the opportunity. During my interview lunch I mentioned that to the assistant managing editor. He said, “you write great stories. I’ll worry about how it actually gets into the paper.”

Suddenly I was a newspaper guy. I loved it—the opportunity to take a few days to work on and craft stories and build relationships. But three years later my comfort zone was challenged again.

I was approached about managing a new blog Jason Vines, the head of communications at then DaimlerChrysler was starting. This was 2005. Blogging was still fairly news and the term “social media” wasn’t yet in common use. Blackberrys were considered state of the art. Smartphones weren’t yet born.

Sure, why not? It was a big decision to jump from news to PR but this seemed like a chance to get in on an emerging communications mode and I had thought for a long time about working at one of the automakers I had covered for so many years.

I not only got to launch and manage Jason’s blog which was unlike any other. It wasn’t open to just anyone. He wanted to admit only “working media” so he could use the blog to comment on published stories and plant ideas for new stories. It was pretty controversial.

Of course I had zero experience blogging but again, out of the comfort zone and into the fire of cutting edge corporate communications. A year later things went so well, a new team was created around me because they never had anyone on staff before who had worked in virtually every corner of the media world. The new team was DaimlerChrysler Electronic Media. We later updated the name to Digital Media.

Our new team would handle broadcast media relations, the media website and social media. We soon added video production and pioneered the concept of “corporate journalism” creating owned media telling the company’s stories in a journalistic style.

I loved my team not only because they were good humans and talented and creative people but they were always game to try something new.

It’s with them I spent my final 11 years in the full-time workforce before retiring at the end of July, 2016.

Yes, this was a long story but one I hope convinces you to have the confidence in yourself and your skills to have the courage to jump out of your comfort zone in the event your current job suddenly ends or an unexpected opportunity presents itself that had never before been under consideration for you.

It can be scary to find yourself in a new work environment, expected to complete tasks with which you have scant, or no, experience, alongside co-workers with habits and sensitivities very different from those of your former colleagues.

But it’s also the most wonderful feeling in the world to discover your core skills and experiences are absolutely transferable opening doors to opportunities that will enrich your life and frankly, your finances.

Oh sure, I officially “retired” six years ago, but I can’t conceive of not continuing to create and learn, which is why I’ve taken on part-time freelance positions writing autos and mobility stories for Forbes.com and as an integrated media consultant for Franco.

I guess you could say working out of my comfort zone is completely within my comfort zone because the one thing I’m most comfortable with is growing. Try it. Yup..it’s a bit of a tightrope but you don’t need a net, because the only thing to fear is by not taking a risk you may miss the best opportunity you didn’t know you would love.

A Father’s Day, Juneteenth Tribute To Helping Each Other

It’s Father’s Day and Juneteenth. That unusual confluence has me thinking about a professional underground railroad of sorts that kept my father, mostly, employed, and my family with a very modest roof over its head and a lifelong appreciation for opportunity, kindness and in today’s terms, a damn good network.

My father grew up without, as he would say, two nickels to rub together. After serving in World War II where he was a decorated hero for capturing a house of 32 Germans, he used his aptitude for math to become a draftsman, then chemical engineer. He soon became well-known in the trade in the New York City area but that didn’t mean job security.

For most of his life he didn’t work directly for a firm, but rather as what was known back then as a “job shopper,” basically a freelancer. Competition was fierce for those jobs which paid well but last only as long as the project. The key was to land the next gig before the current one ended. To wait too long meant missing out on a limited number of openings.

Knowing that, my father and his most trusted fellow job shoppers formed their own secret network decades before the internet and sites like Linkedin changed the game.

We knew a job was near its end when our phone would start ringing more than usual in the evening and the calls were for my dad or he grabbed the phone and started dialing. The conversations were short and serious. The jobshopper network was deep in its mission, trading information on when projects were believed to be ending and where the next ones were starting and staffing.

It was a tenuous way to make a living. Sometimes the network’s information was a little off the mark or too late and spots were filled. While it served my father fairly well over the years, there was a time it didn’t and he was forced to sell air conditioners at Sears for a short time to earn a paycheck.

Oh, while on an engineering job, my father made good money but we never moved from our 440 square foot garden apartment in Queens. We’d go out to Long Island and march through model homes, my mother would fall in love with some and hopes were high we’d finally move to an actual “private house” as we called them back then.

Didn’t happen. My father was spooked by the poverty in which he grew up and the whole Sears salesman experience and feared another period when engineering jobs dried up, making it too risky to get tied up in a 30-year mortgage.

So we stayed in that apartment with its balky heat and crappy circuits that died when we attempted to use window air conditioning units in the heat of summer.

But the jobshoppers network kept at its work. My father never actually had a lull again, working steadily until he finally landed an on-roll position at an engineering firm for the final decade of his career, after a tip from the network.

Only after he retired and my brother and I were gone and married did he feel confident enough to buy a home in Florida where he and my mother enjoyed the final 20 years of their lives. In the end the jobshoppers network completed its mission.

So here’s the epilogue.

While I was in college and seeking summer employment the network showed it never forgot a favor. One of the members named Colin who had opened his own engineering firm called my father. He said, “Dick, you helped me all through my career and I want to repay you in some way. I know you’re not looking but maybe one of your sons needs a summer job. I have an opening for a clerk.”

It was a great job. Paid well and I learned a ton about how the piping in a nuclear power plant is created and how the plants operated.

The next summer I was in need of a job again. I went calling on Colin to see if he could use some help. At first he frowned, saying he now had a full time clerk and I thanked him for his time. Before I could leave his office he called after me.

“Ed! You start Monday! There’s plenty of work for two clerks and you did a good job last summer…besides, it’s the least I can do after all your dad did for me.”

A tribute to my wonderful dad…and his network. Always appreciate your father. Always cultivate your network.

Not Springing or Falling. Introducing My Personal Time Zone

I’m not doing it. I’m not springing ahead, falling back, standing on my head or manipulating my many clocks, watches and other time-displaying devices in any way. Everything is staying the same.

Welcome to EdST—no, not Eastern Standard Time. I now live on Ed Standard Time. You can too. It’s easy. Even use your own name.

People in Arizona actually already live on EdST because that state’s government was smart enough to legislate it. They never change. Half the year they’re on Mountain Standard Time and when everyone else falls back an hour the fine folks in the Grand Canyon State are on Pacific Standard Time.

I lived in Arizona for three years and had no trouble with this. Now I’m adopting it from my home in Michigan which is nominally on Eastern time.

Here’s how it works. I just make believe I’m traveling. My base time is what everyone else calls Daylight Saving Time because I like it lighter later. When folks elsewhere fall back an hour into Standard time, they’re an hour behind me…just like folks in Central time, except those in Central time are now two hours behind me. When they revert to Daylight Saving time in the spring, they’re back to being an hour behind me.

It’s not that hard to keep track of the changes. Just make believe you’re on vacation in another time zone and do the math. So if I have an appointment scheduled for 10am EST in November, that’s just 11am EdST because I haven’t “fallen back.” In the spring when everyone else “springs ahead” I’m already there so it’s 10am for all. Easy, right?

By not screwing with the clock my circadian rhythms aren’t upset, I can sleep better and I’ve saved myself from the bother and time-wasting chore of turning my clocks forwards and backwards twice a year. I don’t turn my clocks. I turn my cheek from this needless chronology manipulation.

While I’ve amused myself by creating my own time zone I’d truly rather not go through the exercise since it would makes so much more sense to just join Arizona in letting time stand still.

Yeah, yeah, be hypertechnical and point out a portion of the northeast corner of the state still does the “fall back, spring ahead two-step.” The Navajo reservation observes Daylight Saving Time, the Hopi reservation which it surrounds does not. So if you drive from outside the reservations through both and out again you have to adjust the clock in your car four times! Makes one yearn for universal use of the sundial which cannot be adjusted, but is useless at night. Then again a sundial doesn’t blink idiotically when the power goes out.

The truth is, all this falling and springing is a nuisance that not only wastes time but is patently unhealthy. But I’m over it. I’m making time stand still on Ed Standard Time…and not losing, or gaining, any sleep over it.

When Jury Duty Calls…and Cancels

Instead of writing this, I thought I would be spending today in court. Maybe tomorrow and the next day too. I was actually a little excited when I received the notice a few weeks ago that I had to report for jury duty this week. I always enjoyed covering court cases when I was a full-time reporter and now that I’m semi-retired I have plenty of time to perform my civic duty.

I was also looking forward to seeing the jury experience from the inside after covering so many trials.

But when I called the special number Sunday to find out when to report the recording said no juries were needed this week so we were all off the hook. It’s not surprising. This particular district court is located in one of the highest income and low-crime areas of Michigan.

However I was so looking forward to sitting on a panel scrutinizing arguments in what I imagine would be typical offenses in such a tony area such as someone criminally mismanaging their portfolios, a catering service providing unmemorable canapes at a pre-schooler’s snooty graduation banquet or a socialite suing a groomer for insufficient poodle fluffing.

This being Thanksgiving week, there may have even been a charge of counterfeit stuffing preparation. Swapping Stove Top for homemade? A major felony in this zip code!

No grisly crime scene or autopsy photos in this courtroom although I had heard tales of past juries being horrified by being subjected to images ill-kept spreadsheets.

This would not have been my first jury service. I did actually have the opportunity to be selected for a case several years ago in county court. The trial lasted one day. It shouldn’t have happened at all.

The defendant was facing his second drunk driving offense. The entire police pursuit was on video. The guy was weaving all over the road and when they stopped him he failed the field sobriety test quite convincingly. Open and shut but he opted for a jury trial hoping, what? We’d think the incriminating video was just a guy doing the “drunk dance” on Tic Tok?

His poor lawyer did his best to toss in a red herring argument his client was a victim of police malpractice because when they hauled him in for booking the precinct video camera wasn’t working to record the process.

“Ha!,” the lawyer exclaimed as he looked each of us on the jury in the eye. “They can’t prove they read my client his rights and other important stuff because there’s no video! You have to find him not guilty!” We could have found the lawyer of misdemeanor “trying to pull a hopeless case out of your ass.”

Once we were handed the case the preponderance of evidence, meaning the video, made our job easy. The defendant was guilty as hell. But you can’t just say you have a verdict 30 seconds after deliberating so we asked to be shown all the videos again “just to make sure.”

One juror was not amused by our sense of responsibility and announced, “this needs to wrap up by 1 because I gotta pick up my son.” As it was only 9:30am when she imposed this “deadline” on us none of the jurors were the least intimidated since there really wasn’t much to discuss.

“Hell, we’ll be done by 10!” announced the foreman who “won” that honor by looking around at the rest of us and deadpanned, “none of you look like leaders, so I’ll be the foreman.”

We watched the video a couple more times because a few insurgents just wanted to find a way to stay away from work a little longer.

Finally, we could no longer justifiably stall any longer, and after all, the whole process was about speedy justice. We took a vote and signaled the bailiff we were done.

He led us back across the hall from the jury room to the courtroom where the foreman announced our guilty verdict. There was no drama. None of the six people present were the least bit surprised. They’d all seen the video. The defense attorney patted the back of his now-convicted client ostensibly to hide his true feeling the guy was a two-time loser and will find some excuse to welch on his legal fees after paying a hefty fine.

One of the courtroom spectators who seemed to know the losing attorney walked up to him and with a sick smile said, “Hey Larry. Can’t believe you used that bullshit ‘no camera in the cop shop defense!’” Larry mumbled “for what this guy is paying me it’s all I had.”

While the judge thanked us effusively for our service the mom on a deadline muttered to herself, “let’s go, let’s go, let’s go, boy’s waiting.” The juror next to her smirked. When the judge finally excused us we quickly left the courtroom flush with the belief we performed our civic duty with distinction and expedience and new respect for the jury system where one’s fate may rest in the hands of a carpooling parent who needed to teach her kid about the wonders of Uber.

World Trade Center Sidebar: A Remembrance In the Round

When the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey decided to build the World Trade Center that meant the end of what was known as Radio Row on a Cortlandt Street. Radio Row was a string of musty shops that carried all manner of tubes and transistors and capacitors and resistors, circuit boards and knobs and cabinets from which radios and other electronic devices could be built or repaired.

Among them was an unexplained anomaly–a little shop that sold bowling stuff. It was there my father, who worked nearby, stopped in when the store ran its going out of business sale since Cortlandt Street was going to disappear. My father was an avid bowler and couldn’t resist the deal that was offered: new ball, custom drilled, with his initials engraved in it and a bag—10 bucks. Sold.

My dad used the ball for several years until his health faltered and bowling was just too much of a strain, so he gave it to me. My father was right-handed and that’s how the ball was drilled. I’m a lefty but the ball seemed to work just fine for me. I rolled my lifetime high game of 250 with it. Never again came close.

I still have the ball, the bag, and even the long-hardened little jar of sticky stuff you put on your fingers to keep the ball from slipping off. It stopped being sticky decades ago. When I bowl, that’s the ball I use. I love that my father’s initials on it. He passed on back in 2007, nine months before my mother.

It’s like he’s with me at the alley, exhorting me to line up with the dots, don’t cross the foul line, don’t loft or drop the ball—just roll it smoothly.

When my friends would ask me about the ball I’d always joke and call it the “World Trade Center ball,” because if they hadn’t demolished Cortlandt Street to build the towers the bowling store wouldn’t have had to run its going out of business sale and my father would never have bought it.

But ever since Sept. 11, 2001 the World Trade Center ball took on new symbolism to me. It reminds me of a time before the towers were built in the late 1960’s-early 1970’s. In an earlier post I recalled how I watched them being built during my lunch breaks when I held summer jobs in Lower Manhattan while I was in college. And now they were down. Not even 30 years old, just like many of the men and women who lost their lives when the planes hit them.

You know, when the Twin Towers were built New Yorkers hated them. They looked like two big featureless rectangles jutting up throwing the beautiful symmetry of Manhattan’s skyline. It was all wrong. The apex of the scene was always the Empire State Building, further uptown on 34th Street. It was centered, it was perfect. Now the picture was out of kilter.

Ironically, on 09/11/2001 the picture was out of kilter again. The World Trade Center was gone, the skyline the way it was before it was built. The way it was when Cortlandt Street and Radio Row and the bowling ball store were still there. Yet every day we wish those towers and the people who were in them that horrible day were still standing. What a much better picture that would be.

I don’t bowl much anymore but every once in awhile I’ll pull it out of the closet, take the ball out of that bag, look at my father’s engraved initials and wish both he, and those whose lives were lost in the buildings that stood where the old bowling store stood, were still alive.

Still Masked and Still Alive

Yeah, I’m still wearing my mask. So is the rest of my family. We’ve had our shots, we wash our hands, we keep our distance and some of us ingest sensible quantities of alcohol…as an extra precaution, and because we’re thirsty.

We still don’t eat inside restaurants, although we did eat lunch in a mall food court a couple of weeks ago on a weekday when there were maybe a dozen people there. We sat in the furthest corner of the space. Didn’t stay long. Dine and dash. Except we paid. We ate there because the paint we used to freshen our front door stunk and we needed to get out of the house for a bit.

The reasons for our ongoing masking are simple. For one, the notion of herd immunity has given way to heard impunity. Yes, we keep hearing members of a growing ilk refusing to believe the pandemic is actually not over and discard warnings about new variants that may challenge the efficacy of vaccines. Are we paranoid? Not at all. It costs nothing to be a little extra cautious. We’ve gone this long with being infected, masking up a little while longer is not an imposition. Besides, I’m not ready to die. I have like seven books I need to finish before I return them to the library and I don’t wanna leave the fines for my family to settle.

Second, I have a gut feeling people who have not actually received both shots are taking advantage of signs at businesses that say it’s OK to go maskless if you’re fully vaccinated. Why do I have that feeling? Because I’m a reporter and I’m a natural skeptic. I also believe there are a good number of people who have poor reading aptitude and think the signs say anyone without a mask receives a free rutabaga.

Thirdly, as I’ve written previously, I am quite sure many of those not wearing masks never wore one and are of the same idiotic ilk who refuse to be vaccinated. I firmly believe a good many still rally around the Stars and Bars of the Confederacy…an infamous symbol of yet another losing effort.

Finally, I’ve grown accustomed to using masks to both hide the bottom of my face and store a couple of Tic Tacs. The mask also makes me feel a little like a bandit and whose day wouldn’t feel a little better prancing around like a “bad boy” in the produce aisle.

How much longer will we continue to wear our masks? Not really sure. Maybe we’ll never stop. Since starting to wear them last year none of us have been sick or even had a sniffle. I’ve forgotten what it feels like to blow my honker in a Kleenex or end useless conversations by complaining of a sore throat. Nowadays I only cough to dislodge a cashew that wandered down the wrong pipe. It is fun when the nut is expelled and lands in my mask…so it can make another attempt at proper ingestion.

Now I’m not one to preach, so please don’t take this as my pitch to get you to keep wearing a mask if you feel secure enough to ditch it. Wearing a mask is a private and personal decision. All I know is I have a face-to-face meeting shortly…and I know just where to quickly find a Tic Tac.

News Conferences…Hate ‘Em…Need ‘Em

I’ve had a couple of weeks to think about this whole concept of news conferences after tennis star Naomi Osaka walked away from the French Open rather than face reporters at mandatory sessions. She revealed that for her news conferences are stressful, counter productive and amount to a legitimate mental health issue for her.

As someone who’s covered a bajillion news conferences over the past 47 years, I hate them too. Oh sure, they’re a necessary evil because it’s not practical to give reporters individual interviews in most cases, but sometimes they can amount to public showcases for individuals astute at the fine art of bullshitting, self-aggrandizement, lack of preparedness or pugnacious discourtesy…and that’s just on the part of those staging the event, let alone some journalists.

LAS VEGAS, NV – NOVEMBER 9: Mike Tyson talks with the media after he was defeated by Evander Holyfield for the WBA Heavyweight tittle at the MGM Grand Garden on November 9, 1996 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Holyfield won the fight with a TKO in the 11th round. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)

Perhaps the worst so-called news conference I ever attended lasted less than 30 seconds. We were called to Cleveland to hear from boxer Mike Tyson after he was released from serving time on a rape rap. He was to discuss his return to the ring. After cooling our heels for quite awhile in the bowels of what was known at the time as Gund Arena Tyson finally came on stage, in a half-whisper said he was glad to fight again and walked off. No questions, no nothing. Well…almost nothing. Wasn’t worth the plane ticket or the price of the crappy hot dog I ate while waiting for the former heavyweight chump.

So yes. That’s a clear case of a useless news conference because the very word “conference” infers a dialogue. This was barely a monologue.

Then there are the news conferences where some reporters appear to want to “share” knowledge rather than gather it. If you’re in the biz you know these people. They take an eternity to let the speaker know how much they already think they know about the subject before finally spilling a question.

On the auto beat there’s one longtime reporter whom I won’t name who has gained a decades-long reputation for such endless preambles. Indeed, at an event in conjunction with the New York Auto Show in the early 2000’s two executives of a major automaker played the roles of police officer and perpetrator to show off a new police cruiser.

They staged a fake chase in front of the press corps then suddenly stopped. Fake cop tells fake perp to put up his hands. Fake perp says, “no problem. I’ll do anything you want. It would be better than enduring a question from (reporter). The guy was in the crowd and enjoyed the notoriety. The rest of us got a good laugh. Comedy based in truth always hits home best.

One time I was actually the main speaker at a news conference and gained instant empathy for those who regularly stand at the business end of reporters’ questions. It happened in the 1990’s when I was one of three pool reporters for the in-prison arraignment of James Nichols, brother of Oklahoma City bombing perpetrator Terry Nichols.

I was joined by reporters from the Associated Press and a local newspaper. When it came time to decide who would brief the rest of the press I was drafted because as the the print guys said, “you’re CNN, TV. You don’t mind facing the cameras.” No, I don’t mind cameras. It’s people who give me the creeps. I gamely gave the top line facts of the proceeding then in a case of “back at ya,” I tossed it over the print guys for “more of the details.” This was not planned by anyone…but me. I was always a decent ad libber on camera.

Truthfully, I ended up feeling exhilarated after fielding some questions and not saying something stupid or wrong. It was a kick being quoted by CBS and others but I’d rather be the inquisitor.

Honestly, I hate to ask my best question during news conferences, especially if it was based on some information I had in hand that would give my place a competitive edge on a previously unexplored angle. Why give it to everyone else? In that case I would try to find a way to ask the question privately, but you can’t always count on that and you need an answer so sometimes you have no choice.

Look, I feel for Ms. Osaka if facing the media is stressful and unpleasant. A person’s mental health is a serious matter and should not be downplayed.

Unfortunately, professional sports is actually a form of show business where athletes’ stages are the field, pitch, court or ice. Tickets are sold and fan loyalties are stoked in part by news stories. That all can generate the millions athletes can reap from prize money, bonuses and endorsements. In other words, there’s tremendous demand for what an athlete has to say, even if it’s not especially enlightening.

For journalists, direct quotes offer depth, context and perspective to a story which adds to a richer experience for their readers or audience.

Perhaps some of the anxiety for those thrust into situations that demand presence at news conferences could be allayed by counseling or league-sponsored media training that includes realistic mock sessions using actual journalists. When I conduct media training sessions the strategy is to always put the trainees through an even tougher experience than they might actually face. Kinda like swinging a heavy bat in the on-deck circle so your real bat feels lighter when you’re facing a fast ball.

That, or know what you would be getting into before you decide to become a professional athlete or other high-profile profession, and choose another path to avoid the news conference blood sport.

Making Misbehaved 2020 Go Back and Get it Right

If 2020 was a kid we’d never let him/her get away with myriad of misbehaviors it exhibited over the past 366 days. No…we’d first have a long talk with the kid, make sure there’s an understanding of how badly they screwed up, then make the kid go back and correct those mistakes. If that fails, the errant child is grounded..in this case, the naughty year, meaning no new year for, I dunno, a year. 

You see, it royally ticks me off that 2020 is allowed to skulk into history without any sort of accounting or retribution. Is it fair to a world that has had to endure a deadly pandemic, loser’s tantrum from a roundly rejected POTUS and an all-too-soon ending to Schitts Creek? Sure…just tear off a page from the calendar, ball it up and toss it in the trash and that’s it? 

The parent in me says to order 2020 to think about its utter disregard for the health and well-being of the entire human race, then go back and do it right! No COVID, extend Schitt’s Creek another 10 seasons and send the sulking lame duck home…in silence. But that’s just for starters. Bring back all those lives lost to the pandemic, restore the businesses that went under, reduce Zoom usage to occasional meetings and family reunions or non-contact blind dates, and let our kids go back to school and workers back to the office…safely. 

Bring back hugs and visits that aren’t bisected by acrylic or glass barriers. Abolish pandemic-induced loneliness. Don’t bother restoring hand shakes. Those needed to go anyway. 

We love our sports, but not without the sounds of fans in stadiums and arenas cheering or booing or vendors hawking beers and peanuts. 

No matter how you feel about the presidential election, 2020, you need to go back and teach the loser to take it like a mensch and set an example for our kids that even if you fail, as we all do at some points in our lives, instead of pitching a fit, accept the outcome and move on. 

Of course my vision of forcing a major “do over” on 2020 is impractical since time is a one-way process. But I hope while 2021 was waiting to march in, it was watching and learning and listening…because we won’t accept another year like 2020 and there’s no option for a time out. 

So let’s hope the next 365 days offer the kind of healing and humility so sorely lacking in the previous 366, and the cast of Schitts Creek blesses us with a reunion, and perhaps a bebe.

Happy New Year everyone. I wish you all the best! 

Remembering Phil Niekro and Lessons of Retirement

Sporting News Photo

Every time I’ve thought about the concept of retirement, my thoughts would drift towards the great Atlanta Braves pitcher Phil Niekro. Those thoughts are especially vivid after hearing the sad news he passed away this weekend. 

Why Niekro? My wife and I were in the stands on Sept. 27, 1987 when he pitched in his last game. It was at the old Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium. CNN employees at the time were granted tickets to two Braves games each season because the company owned the team. Atlanta was as much in love with Niekro as he was with the city and team, for which he pitched for a quarter century. That’s why it hurt so much when the Braves released him in 1983. He ended up with the Yankees, Indians and Blue Jays for but longed to return to the Braves. When he was 48, the Braves, maybe feeling guilty for their premature jettisoning the pitching legend and fan favorite, offered Niekro the chance to pitch one last game as a Brave. 

It was the last game of the season for the non-contending Braves and we knew this would be it for Niekro regardless of the outcome. He started fine, but the game rapidly got out of hand against the playoff-bound San Francisco Giants. Then, in the third inning, Braves manager Chuck Tanner slowly walked out to the mound, put his arm on Niekro’s shoulders and told him he didn’t want him to be the losing pitcher. There was a long ovation, but it was over. A man’s life’s work done, and that always got to me. 

Throughout my working life I always thought what that would be like to punch out, walk away, say goodbye and never again do what I’d done for so many years. Would I be sad relieved, feel bereft, rudderless, miss the routine, miss the people, miss the work, become a pain in the ass to my wife who was used to me being away during the day, and many, many nights on the road? Did Niekro have those same thoughts as he took in the crowd’s long ovation wondering what the hell was next? 

It turns out, that when I retired in 2016 I had none of those thoughts. The truth is, I was glad to walk out of Fiat Chrysler’s Auburn Hills, Mich. headquarters for the last time. Oh, I would miss my wonderful team, because any success I had during my 11 years there I had because of them, their friendship and support. But I felt like I’d completed my task, Had many successes, overcame tons of challenges and more that anything, owed my family time I spent away chasing stories as a reporter and on business trips for the automakers. Bottom line is, I felt great. Swiped my badge for the last time, took a deep breath, called my wife and told her “we’re retired, let’s have some fun.” 

The one thought I never had, though, was that I would never again do the kind of work I always enjoyed. I love writing, and learning, and writing about what I’ve learned in both my careers as a reporter and corporate communications team leader. I just didn’t love doing it full time anymore and so I’ve spent the last four-plus years taking on some freelance work in both camps working as much or as little as I like. I don’t do it to make a living, I do it because it’s fun, stimulating and natural.  Indeed, Niekro continued to contribute to the Braves as a mentor, allowing him to stay around the game. 

No one put their arm around me as I spent my final moments working full time but I did enjoy a very heartfelt send off that I will always cherish and think about more than you might believe.  

But that day, July 28, 2016, when I left the building and headed for my car in the parking deck, I guess that’s sort of equivalent to the late Mr. Niekro walking off the mound heading for the clubhouse. Thoughts of what we both just left behind fresh and raw, but knowing neither of us was washed up. Sure, we walked away, but not too far. 

RIP Phil Niekro.