The times, they are a changin’.
On August 23, 1982, I walked into the newsroom of WRBL-TV, and entered the world of professional journalism. With one hand, the news director gave me a hearty pat on the back, and with the other, he handed me a camera as big as an armored car. With an RCA TK76 digging into my bony shoulder and sweat gushing from every pore, I shot my first news story.
The TK76 is now an extra-large part of television history. During my 34 years in the business, we’ve switched from hefty ¾” tape, to Beta, to digital video tape, to digital cards. Broadcast cameras, once large enough to break you in two, are now the size of the handheld version you cart to Disney World. The equipment has gotten smaller as our responsibilities have grown. We’re now asked to feed not just a newscast or two, but our website and several social media platforms. We can do live shots with our phones.
Change in television news is constant and inevitable. Sometimes, it’s downright sad.
I am lucky enough to have worked with some of Atlanta’s television legends. John Pruitt is a cherished mentor. There was Guy Sharpe, Chuck Moore, Johnny Beckman, Joe Washington, Randy Waters, and Bruce Erion. I once thought of them as irreplaceable. They’ve all been replaced.
The look of my television station is changing again by way of a mass retirement. Donna Lowry. Keith Whitney. Kevin Rowson. They are among a group of vastly experienced journalists who are saying good-bye to WXIA-TV. If you know these people only through their on-screen work, trust me, you’re missing out. They are much more than a one minute blip on the tube. These are loving parents, good friends, hard workers. They care about you. They do. If you happened upon them at the grocery store or a dinner party, you would like them. You would understand immediately why they’ve lasted so long in a challenging business.
None of these people got into television news for the money or the notoriety. Young journalists motivated by wealth and fame don’t last. Donna, Keith, Kevin, photographers Mike Zakel, Steve Flood, and Ron Nakfoor, they lasted decades in this business because of much more. They all got into it because of a hunger to tell good stories, a passion to find the truth, and their ability to relate to people. They all spent time working in snow, or with the sting of a hurricane against their cheek, or with the miserable feel of a TK76 on their shoulder. And they kept coming back. Because they love it.
Good journalism doesn’t come from a can of hairspray. Passion always outweighs discomfort.
Times change. People retire. I’ve witnessed a lot of departures during my 27-years with WXIA. This time, we’re talking about people who are close to my age.
Their exit brings reflection.
I wear a lot of gray now, but I don’t really notice because my vision isn’t so sharp. I don’t bounce back from long work days the way I once did. The passion is still there, but the body is struggling to keep pace.
More than once, I’ve contemplated the end of my broadcast career. It will happen one of several ways. I could leave on my own terms, when the body and the bank account agree there’s a nice comfortable chair waiting for me at the beach. It may require encouragement from bosses who feel I’ve outlived my usefulness. There are a few of my snarkier friends who may tell you that time has already arrived. I’m looking at you, Randy Waters.
I remember a conversation many years ago with affable weatherman Guy Sharpe. If Atlanta television had a Mt. Rushmore, Guy’s face would be on it. He was nearing the end of his television career, and he knew it. He accepted Father Time’s command with grace, refusing to grow bitter toward a business that often demands younger, faster, and better looking.
For now, I still have some good years left in me, and I get to work with journalism’s next generation. My desk is surrounded with energetic young reporters eager to dig, to work, to inform. They are not burdened with ego. They are the Donna Lowry, Kevin Rowson, and Keith Whitney of thirty years ago.
And they never had to work with that blasted TK76.
Right now, my heart is as heavy as that burdensome camera my boss dropped on my shoulder so long ago. Our newsroom is about to experience a void. We’re losing some classy people. Solid journalists. Treasured companions.
So long, friends. We will miss you.