Hot Air: Decisions, Decisions

Fair & Balanced?

A sitting Bloomington city council member contacted my bosses, Jar Turner and Wes Martin (respectively, the GM and news director), over at WFHB last week. This person asked why s/he hadn’t been invited on Big Talk to chat about her/his campaign. There was a hint of Hey you guys, this isn’t fair in the missive. El jefe Jar forwarded the message to me and I thought about the council member’s plaint for a good long time Friday night. Finally, around midnight, I dashed off a response to this person. I’ll share it here:

Hi, ______:

Thanks for reaching out regarding Big Talk. In early February when I came up with the idea to have as many candidates on the show as possible until the primary, I knew there weren’t enough weeks left to accommodate every single person running for city council. Unfortunately, some people would be left out. So I gave the schedule some thought and eventually realized the number of challengers matched exactly the number of weeks until the primary (that is, until Jim Blickensdorf dropped out), so I decided not to include incumbents. This didn’t trouble me because the sitting city council members get continual media coverage thanks to our own Daily Local News, the Herald-Times, WFIU, and CATS. The voting public has been able to monitor their words, votes, and actions since they took office. The challengers may or may not have gotten brief media mentions when they filed or announced their candidacies. Inviting the challengers on my show gives listeners the opportunity to discover who they are.

Is my decision equitable in a strict, dictionary definition of the word? No. Is it fair? I feel it’s close enough.

Again, thanks, M

There you have it. I’ve alluded to this position at least one time previously in this space. The city council person wasn’t pissy about it, and I appreciate that. So, I’m hoping Susan Sandberg, Isabel Piedmont-Smith, Steve Volan, Dave Rollo, Dorothy Granger, Jim Sims, Chris Sturbaum, and Andy Ruff (Allison Chopra is not running for reelection) also catch wind of this. Not that they think about me, tossing and turning in their beds at night, but just in case the thought crosses their minds that I’ve done them wrong.

Extra, Extra!

Speaking of Big Talk, in my series featuring candidates for Bloomington city council running in this year’s Democratic and Republican primaries the format has evolved thusly: the half-hour Big Talk on Thursday concentrates primarily on the candidate’s personal life and history; it’s a how-do-you-do intro to the human behind the campaign poster photo; then, Big Talk Extra, a feature on the following Monday’s Daily Local News, covers the candidate’s platform.

This afternoon’s Big Talk Extra, for instance, features the priorities and pet issues of Sue Sgambelluri, last week’s Big Talk guest and candidate for the Dist. 2 seat on the council, the single most contested race in town this year. She’s going up against incumbent Dorothy Granger and another challenger, Daniel Bingham. The lone Republican to enter any local race this year, Andrew Guenther, is running unopposed, natch, in that party’s primary.

Again, Big Talk airs every Thursday at 5:30pm on WFHB, 91.3 FM. Big Talk Extra is the Monday Daily Local News feature each week. The DLN airs Monday through Thursday at 5:00pm

Old School & New

I’ve been a big, big fan of Matt Taibbi ever since I first heard of him. I don’t think he’s infallible nor do I think he’s without sin. Only that he’s dogged, skeptical, curious, unimpressed by stature, uncowed by position, unmoved by high-minded rhetoric, and unswayed by bullshit. That’s all I ask of the journalists I admire. Of which there are about three out of the seven billion or so humans who occupy this planet with me.

On his new online venue, Taibbi talks about his daddy-o, who was a reporter for ABC-TV affiliate WCBV in Massachusetts. He shares this memory in his initial post on the site:

He had a ritual he called the “phone attack.” When he came home at night, he would pour himself a drink, light up a Camel unfiltered, and start going through a giant Rolodex, pulling names out at random. Then he would dial his clunky rotary phone and call people to chat.

As a boy watching, I learned this lesson: sources are relationships that must be managed both when you’re doing a story, and also when you’re not. People need to feel like you’re interested in their lives for their own sake, not just when you need something from them. Also: ask people about whatever they want to talk about, not about one thing in particular.

Beautiful. Me? I recall an old, raspy-voiced, curmudgeonly sports reporter named Bill Gleason who covered baseball and penned a column for the Chicago Sun-Times for decades. In fact, it was Gleason who, essentially, invented the two-front-page idea for tabloid papers. I’m using the term tabloid according to its technical definition: in North America, a tabloid newspaper measures 11″x17″, enabling commuters to read it on the bus or train and not elbow the persons sitting next to them in the face. Anyway, for years the back end of tabloid papers was an afterthought, essentially the least important space in the publication. Gleason reasoned that if the papers put the sports section in the rear of the paper and used its back page as a second front page, it’d be service to sports fans who comprised a huge percentage of the paper’s readership.

Now & Then.

Okay, so Bill Gleason once had me on his WMVP-AM radio show. This is back in the mid-1980s when I was still trying to make a name for myself in this reporting racket. I sat next to Gleason in the studio as he chewed on his ever-present cigar. In front of him, on the desk, was an enormous pile of 3×5 cards on which he’d scribbled notes about the phone guests he’d be having on the show that day. I asked him about the cards and he explained.

Every time Gleason met someone, either at the ballpark, in the newsroom, at a restaurant or saloon, or even on the street, he’d make up a 3×5 card on that person as soon as he got home that night. As time’d go by and he gathered more info on the person, he’d add to the card. The data included any nicknames the person had, what neighborhood s/he lived in, the names of her/his spouse and/or children, where the person went to high school, the person’s drink, hair color, body type, glasses or not, et cetera. He had so much info on some folks he’d have to staple three and four cards together for them.

“That way,” Gleason said, “whenever I run into someone I’ve already met I have this ready store of information about them. They’re flattered that I remember these little details. It bonds us.”

Gleason went on to introduce me to an axiom that I’ve found to be absolutely true: The most successful people in this world are those who remember everybody’s names. Politicians, especially, who can say, “Hey, Maryanne, how’ve you been?” after meeting you a single time endear themselves to people and literally earn votes merely by dint of that.

I don’t know if they’re teaching that in college media schools. If not, they ought to.

Taibbi’s publishing a new ebook called Hate, Inc. It’s available here.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: