November 22

On May 29, 1917, John F. Kennedy was born in Brookline, Massachusetts.  More than fifty years later –to the day – I was born on Cape Cod.  Our shared birthdays led me to consume anything and everything Kennedy related as a child, and –like a child- I basked in the heroism and hagiography of his life story.  With age and with study of history and politics came the realization that –as are we all- Jack Kennedy was a human being: not quite perfect, and not completely flawed.   

The fiftieth anniversary of Kennedy’s assassination is being marked by remembrances from national leaders to journalists who covered the event to citizens who may have never met the thirty-fifth president….

….but still feel a connection to him. 

The reasons his assassination resonates so fully with people vary and have been well documented. Primary among them is this: television brought this young, charismatic politician into the homes of Americans on a daily basis; his death seemed like the death of a family member. 

A native Cape Codder born after his assassination, my connection to the Cape’s most well-known resident is obvious – we swam in the same waters, drove the same roads and walked the same greens and fairways at Hyannisport Golf Club.   That connection, however, goes far beyond the fact that my siblings and I were raised just a few miles away from the Kennedy Compound.  First, a note about the Cape: yes, it is an exclusive vacation spot for some – but not for all.  Like most of my friends and neighbors, we were middle class.  Dad was a teacher, Mom a secretary.  We struggled with finances like other families, but the efforts of –and the part time jobs obtained by- my parents taught us the value of hard work and discipline.  I may have walked the same fairways as JFK at the Hyannisport Club, but there was a great difference: he played, I caddied.  Proximity to the Kennedy Compound didn’t mean we were in the same economic neighborhood.  Far from it.

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The first tee at Hyannisport, twenty years before I was doing double loops there. 

That proximity did lead to other shared experiences.  Mom and Dad were married  -and I was baptized and had my first communion- at St. Francis Xavier Church in Hyannis.  It was also the same parish the Kennedys called home.  I can still recall tourists turning and taking photos of Ted Kennedy as the Senator attended mass.  There was pride in the fact that my parents prayed in the same pews as the nation’s first Catholic president, and that Jack’s –and later Bobby’s and Ted’s- efforts to improve the lot of the less fortunate among us came from our shared Catholic beliefs.

The church is located on South Street in Hyannis, directly in front of the old Barnstable High School and a half mile from where my mother grew up.  Mom loves telling the story of election-day in 1960: Jack’s defeat of Nixon wasn’t confirmed until early the following day.  A few hours later, the President-elect and his family drove down South Street to give his acceptance speech at the Hyannis Armory, a few blocks from the high school.  Mom describes running from the school, falling and scraping her knee in an effort to watch the caravan of cars pass.  She had seen him plenty of times before, but never as President-elect. The memory, she says, still resonates.

“They drove by,” she’s told us hundreds of times, “and as he passed he smiled and waved right at me.”

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The President-elect at the Hyannis armory. 

I grew up in the ‘80s, years after Kennedy was assassinated, and during the height of the Reagan revolution.  Despite the country’s turn to the Right politically, there was still a great deal of interest in all things Kennedy.  The summer months would see thousands of tourists descend upon Hyannis for a drive by the Compound.  I can’t begin to count the number of times I’d be biking through Hyannis and then be stopped by tourists asking for directions.

Inevitably, after giving directions, I’d hear the same question: “Are you a Kennedy?”

I always thought the question came as a result of my obvious good-looks, charisma and intelligence.*

Not so much. 

A high school friend of mine is in Hollywood shopping a script he’s written about similar experiences he went through growing up.  Thanks, Ted Collins for destroying the belief that I was something special.  Apparently ALL of my friends were asked the same question. 

Fifty years after his assassination Kennedy’s legacy lives on: you can read today of the elected officials who were inspired by him to pursue politics, or join the military….or the Peace Corps…or the fight for civil rights.     

A legacy of service?

For this journalist who shared a birthday, a church and the same hometown as the martyred president, I can think of nothing more impressive. 

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*Kidding. Swear to god. 

 

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Dan Rather Made Me Do It

Friday marks the fiftieth anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy and as reporters chronicle the half-century since the event, something will be missing from CBS’s coverage.

Dan Rather.

In 1963, Rather had recently been hired as the head of CBS’s southwest bureau and, as such, took on the mundane administrative duties required of a bureau chief during the President’s weekend trip to Dallas.  That changed the instant shots rang out in Dealey Plaza.

Rather, through hustle and institutional knowledge of the major players in Dallas, was among the leaders in coverage of the chaotic aftermath of the assassination.  Walter Cronkite’s emotional reaction to the wire service flash announcing the President’s death remains one of the more iconic moments in a weekend filled with such moments.  What many forget, however, was that Rather had reported the President’s death moments earlier.  CBS, which created the field of broadcast journalism through the work of the Murrow Boys and Cronkite and Rather, has decided to ignore its most well-known connection to that Friday afternoon in Dallas.

That’s fine.  Rather sat down for a compelling series of interviews with Tom Brokaw, a former competitor at NBC.  The 82-year-old journalist also hosted an hour-long special about the weekend on AXS TV, a cable outlet owned, in part, by Mark Cuban.

Why, you ask, is this topic brought up in my quest for funding in the Go To Black  ( http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/go-to-black )   project?

Because Dan Rather made me do it.

Not specifically, mind you.  Heck, I haven’t spoken to the broadcast pioneer in years.

But his support and encouragement from years ago led me to this effort.

In 2004, I was the head of Meredith Broadcasting’s Washington, DC bureau (we had a bureau chief, but he was saddled with so many other responsibilities in the company, he was hardly in DC).  In July, my photographer Rob Yingling and I packed up the bureau and moved everything to Boston to cover the Democratic National Convention; a month later we did the same for the Republican Convention in New York.  In Massachusetts, CBS gave us an opportunity to meet with and interview Rather from the network’s booth high above the convention floor.  His stories about past conventions and his opinions about the ’04 race were fascinating to listen to – I seem to recall his interest in a little-known Illinois state senator named Obama who was scheduled to deliver the keynote address in Boston.

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Speaking with Dan Rather in Boston in July, 2004. 

A month later we were in New York and CBS offered the same opportunity.

“Andy Gobeil,” Rather called out as I walked in to the booth at Madison Square Garden.

Taken aback and pleasantly surprised at his familiarity, I smiled and complimented him on a staff that prepped him well for the visit of one of the many reporters taking his time during the convention.

My staff is wonderful, he told me, but they didn’t remind him of my name.  He said he remembered me from the visit in Boston.

I was skeptical until he told me how his wife’s maiden name was nearly identical to mine.  His response remains one of the high points of my career:  “After you left, I asked around, heard some good things about you and looked forward to seeing you again.”

Rob and I produced another story with Rather, I thanked him for his kind words, and we left.

Four years later, I was in South Carolina and ran into Rather again.  He had since departed CBS and was hosting a discussion –to air on his online program Dan Rather Reports– on the presidential race, a race in which the Palmetto State played a major role.  I reintroduced myself, reminded him of our meeting in Boston and New York and, not wanted to intrude on his prep time, stepped away.  After a few moments, he called me over (we were waiting for the lighting to be set for my interview of him) and we started discussing –of all things- books.

Now, I’ve wanted to write for quite some time, but I’ve been pretty quiet about my hopes to do so.  Yet, for some reason, I told him about my idea of producing a book about local television coverage of the civil rights era.

What a great idea, he said.  You need to write that book.

I chuckled, thinking he was simply being polite.

We conducted our interview and, before leaving, he took my hand in his and urged me –again- to write the book.

Five years later, I’m trying to do just that….

….but I need your help: http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/go-to-black

A deep breath and a new challenge….

I was desperate.

I’m not sure if it was the most recent article about the middle-aged, middle class, unemployed white-collar professional still looking for work…

…or the first ten such articles I read that led to my feelings of desperation.

Either way, I was desperate.

“This cannot be happening to me,” I thought day in and day out.  I’d been promoted in every job I’d had. At one point I was one of the youngest NPR affiliate news directors in the country. I broke into television news shortly after that and went from reporter to weekend anchor, to weathercaster/reporter/anchor (weathercaster?!) to main anchor, all in a few years.  The broadcast group that owned my station in South Carolina decided to create a Washington, DC bureau and asked me to run it; another promotion.  When a change in the company’s management sent all of those responsible for the DC bureau packing, the new managers liked me enough to offer me more money and an exciting new job.  It was -I thought, anyway- a promotion through non-termination.

A divorce and its resultant mess led to a mid-career hiccup, but who in this industry hasn’t faced such challenges?  You pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and move ahead.

I did just that and found myself back in New England, anchoring a morning television program.  Another step led to another promotion: I was asked to co-host a morning news program on the most well-known radio station in Rhode Island.

For a variety of reasons best left unexplained here, the show wasn’t as successful as all had hoped.  Two years in and management decided to make a change….

…a change that didn’t include me.

No worries.  After all, it is said, you haven’t become a true journalist until you’ve been replaced (a sense of Schadenfreude allows me to point out that the station, with my replacement, hasn’t seen an increase in ratings and in some cases has even fallen in the ratings….but I digress.  Happily).

It’ll take a few weeks, but –I told myself- I’ll find a job.

Those weeks turned to months.

Those months turned into half a year.

The interviews went well: one such phone interview for a main anchor position, scheduled to last thirty minutes, stretched into an hour and a half, the News Director told me to expect a call scheduling a time for me to travel to her city in a matter of days.  An email from her shortly thereafter told me they’d decided to go in another direction.

“You’re too polished,” she told me.  “Too professional for us.”

A conversation with another station and I was given the impression that I wasn’t polished enough.

I had a request from one News Director to watch her morning show, write up a few comments, and send her the critique.

She told me she was impressed with what I had written: the ideas were pertinent and well thought-out.

“You’ll hear from me soon,” she said.

That was in April.

I’m still waiting for her call.

The journalism job applications were soon followed by public relations positions.  Marketing.  Communications.  Voice work.

No.

No.

No.

A 45 year-old journalist who –at one point- reported from the White House and Capitol Hill on a daily basis and who –at one point- had a comfortable salary, apparently didn’t fit in to the new journalism.  I’m sure the latter meant a great deal more than the former.

So now, rather than waiting for someone else to offer me a job, I’ll create one on my own.  For years, I’ve toyed with the idea of long-form writing.  There’s a novel to be written (actually, I’ve written bits and pieces of one) about the broadcast journalism industry.  It’s fun, exciting, interesting and amusing and will be completed very soon.

What I’m working on today, however, is far more important.

It’s a non-fiction look at local television coverage of the civil rights battles.

The Race Beat, which won the Pulitzer for history in 1997, documented print reporters’ efforts to cover the era.  Ignored have been the efforts of local television reporters, producers, photographers and anchors who tried to do the same.  Those broadcast journalists faced a difficult fight, as the owners of the stations they worked for were part of the power structure that wanted no part of integration.

It’s a compelling story.

It’s a story that needs to be told.

In order to tell that story, I need assistance.

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I’ve decided to create a crowd-funding site that will finance the research and writing of the book.  Over the next month, I’ll tell you more about the subjects and the challenges involved in writing.  I’ll also document the difficult fundraising task ahead.  Check back here every day for the latest in our efforts….

….and don’t forget to click on the link ( http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/go-to-black ) to offer your support.

After all, I may just be too polished –or not polished enough—to find a real job.

So you want to make money in journalism?

“Who here wants to be a billionaire?”

As a television anchor, radio talk show host, Washington DC correspondent (heck, even as a weathercaster) I was expected to speak before various groups, classes or organizations.  It’s called outreach, and it was designed to publicize the stations where I worked.  What better way, after all, to help bring attention to a newscast –or newscaster- than meeting the viewing public in person?  Over the past decade or so, I would begin each speech with the same question.

“Who here wants to be a billionaire? 

After some hesitation, the vast majority of those in the Rotary Club or college graduate level journalism seminar or middle school social studies class I was speaking to would raise their hands.  Some would thrust their arms up as high as possible, others in a casual sure-I’ll-go-along manner, a few would even spend a moment seriously contemplating the question….as if I were about to write a check for each person who did, in fact, want to become a billionaire. 

Inevitably, however, nearly everyone would say yes. 

“Fine,” I’d tell them.  “You want to become a billionaire? Here’s how: develop a system that can combine the best of old-school journalism with the internet…and the riches will be yours.”

Pretty simple, really.  Right?

Not necessarily. 

No one has yet been able to come up with a proper system that truly monetizes journalism.  Sure there are pay sites, there are advertisements that pop up whenever you click on a video link; there are subscriptions, fees and donation based sites. 

I bring all of this up because of a recent change in media ownership.  Red Sox owner John Henry, whose purchase of the Boston Globe was made official last week, described the Globe, its relationship to New Englanders, and the responsibility that comes with owning the paper.  Any owner of the Globe should be, he wrote, a steward.  

I can think of no better description for a news outlet owner.  Check out the story here….

http://www.boston.com/editorials/2013/10/27/why-bought-the-globe/sYfPrPjYKUG30Qc2bW3uCP/story.html 

His comments were quite interesting, but there are two things I picked up on: first, he worked on the McCarthy campaign in 1968.  For some reason that absolutely floored me.  Second, he gave such short shrift to the manner in which he made his money.  You, like me, I am sure, worry daily about the mortgage, the car payment, the cable bill, retirement, college funds for the kids.  I couldn’t imagine what life would be like without those pressures hanging overhead.  Mr. Henry has no such worries.  He worked hard.  He made hundreds of millions of dollars and then, after making his fortune, parlayed that fortune into sports ownership.  His group was responsible for ending an 86 year championship drought for the Red Sox, he invested millions into the improvement of Fenway, he purchased one of the most well-known English soccer teams….

…and now he owns the Globe. 

Not bad, Mr. Henry.  Not bad at all.

Perhaps it will take a billionaire (Forbes pegs Henry’s net worth at $1.7 billion) to come up with the matrix required to truly monetize journalism.  Truth be told….I’m still of the belief that journalism –as it was considered long ago- will always be a loss leader.  Perhaps finding that perfect combination of journalism, the web, and financial success is impossible.