• No, not this blog. My career, pretty much
• How it sputtered, as journalism atrophied and news organizations crumbled beneath me
• Few photos here . . I wasn’t around some of these places long enough
The first media outlet to shut down and leave me (and other newsies) out of work was Air America. I was in good company then, with Al Franken, Rachel Maddow. and Marc Maron.
(To be accurate, my first job in radio news in 1972 ended when the station abruptly went off-air. But that was more like a rite of passage.)
After Air America crashed, I found myself back at CNN for the first time in about eight years, brought in as a backup to the radio newscaster based in the NY bureau. It was part-time work, and unpredictable.
When the NY radio guy was sent to cover a story somewhere out in the region, I was called in to babysit at the bureau. It was good to see some of the old friends from the ‘90s still at CNN. The bureau had moved to Columbus Circle, so I walked to work, like I used to at ABC, on the Upper West Side.
Then, an exciting opportunity arose at the New York Times. Around 2007, the newspaper was planning to launch its own national radio network. It was already doing news on the classical music station it had owned since 1944, WQXR-FM. There, Steve Powers, a New York broadcast veteran, started “building a bench” for the hoped-for launch of the network and he hired me and trained me on their software and style.
This was an unexpected and pleasing turn for me, since I had written the college hockey column for the Times in the early 2000s. Now, instead of filing from home as a sports department freelance, I was going into the brand-new Renzo Piano-designed NYT building on 42nd street. A simple, basic radio studio was tucked into a small office on one of the floors. I remember on the morning drive shift, in between hourly newscasts, I’d wander through the empty multi-level newsroom to get vending-machine coffee and I’d gape at the desks of famous Times reporters and columnists. Didn’t matter that I’d seen my own byline in the paper, I was like a news groupie.
A year passed, then an announcement: the newspaper was scrapping the radio network project . . and selling WQXR. Just like that.
Well, if not back on the street, I was back at CNN Radio, right? Nope, thanks, in part, to a horndog NY state governor. I’d been working both places, and each outlet knew I was freelancing at the other. In March of 2008, the day the news broke that Gov. Eliot Spitzer was resigning after having been discovered (by the NY Times) to have patronized an escort service, I was on the air at WQXR/NYT. My phone beeped and it was CNN Radio, asking me to immediately hurry over to Columbus Circle and get to work there. No can do, I said. Never heard from CNN Radio again.
Next stop: NY1, the local all-news channel owned and run then by Time Warner Cable. A friend working there helped me get an entry-level writer/producer position. NY1 would regularly advertise these job availabilities, hire a handful of people as “vendors” in effect, with no health insurance or benefits. After 6 months – the duration allowed by the state, and labor unions, for that kind of employment — they would show most of us the door and retain, maybe, one. I found it an unpleasant place to work, but tried my best, including sleeping overnight on a couch in a lounge during a major snowstorm.
At the end of six months I was let go, while a young woman still finishing up college, was offered a contract. Her father happened to be the deputy commissioner of the NYC Department of Sanitation, which deploys snowplows in storms. I’d watched her relay updates on storm readiness from her father, over the phone, to the newsdesk. Here was a valued employee for sure! I thought about the likelihood of success of an age-discrimination lawsuit, but decided against it. Lawsuits like that usually turn plaintiffs into pariahs and I thought there was still a chance for employment in New York’s news industry.
I was wrong.
But wait, there’s more. I’m still working for Public News Service and will tell you more about that soon (it’s not all that exciting, to be honest). And I still have, in the archives, some interesting video and audio reporting from decades ago that is worth a watch and a story or two. I’ve also found video that I didn’t have at the time I wrote blog posts here about Barbara Streisand and Brian Wilson, for a few.
But in the near future, I’m also going to start telling tales from my misspent youth, by popular demand from college and high school friends who know about the hijinks…or think they do! There were many. So, as the career tales wind down, the story of what led to this life in journalism will unfold.