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Julie Blacklow

A TV Legend

It was my real honor to work with Julie Blacklow when we were both reporters at Seattle’s KIRO 7 in the mid-90’s. Full disclosure: I’ve always been a fan of hers. In fact, she was one reason why as a young feature reporter, I had my sights set on the Seattle TV market. I just had to work in Seattle. I had to be here. If storytellers like KING 5’s Julie Blacklow and KOMO 4’s John Larson were here, that’s where I wanted to be too. Long before it was common to find women in the newsroom, Blacklow was a pioneer. She broke ground. There’s an old quote from Chicago humorist Finley Peter Dunn that embodies Julie Blacklow’s work, “Comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” Julie got exclusives. She got in your face. She won Emmys. Her reporting drew national attention and her career made national news. She’s interviewed everyone from Richard Nixon, to the Dalai Lama to Chuck Berry to Oprah Winfrey.  She out-hustled the competition and from time to time, gave news managers grief. After she was fired from KING 5 in 1986, she sued to get her job back and won. Julie Blacklow stood up for her principals and paid the price. She left the newsroom a few years ago to find new purpose. That’s why I wanted to talk to her for this blog. And because she’s a former journalist with new purpose and a new must-read book, “Fearless,” – Diary of a Badass Reporter that’s available now.

Recently, I dropped by Blacklow’s Issaquah home and talked to her about storytelling, her career in broadcasting and that new book. It is a revealing and surprisingly transparent account of a life well-lived with exhilarating highs and heartbreaking lows. Julie’s the kind of reporter you always look up to, the kind you can safety call a legend. She broke barriers and left a wake that is still being felt across the media landscape of the Pacific Northwest. If you’re old enough, “Fearless” will make you remember.

John Yeager: Why this book and why now?

Julie Blacklow: Why now? Because I’m older and wanted to get these stories out of my head and my heart, on to paper and social media formats. And because I had been urged by so many people for so many years, to get busy and write it, and we’ve been hesitant. So, the question might also be, ‘Why not earlier?’

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Julie Blacklow KING 5 1981

And for me, I didn’t think my story was particularly unique, but I came to see that while everybody, and you know this as well as I do, everyone has stories, life stories, everyone has ups and downs. What I think set my life a little bit apart was that I felt the highs were higher and the lows were lower and so I have experienced extremes of unusual in depth, and height.

So I wanted to send a message. I wanted to convey a story of a survivor of someone who by the nature of the chosen profession and by choices as I made as a teenager, which is why some of those early stories are in there, to fight back to stand up and now more than ever, what’s more important than to stand up, be counted. Pick a side and try to overcome fear. Courage is just what you do when you are afraid, that’s the only time you can really show you have it.

JY: And yet, the name of the book is, “Fearless – Diary of a Badass Reporter.” And at various times throughout the book, you talk about how fear got into your head despite this demeanor. Here’s this gladiator and she’s not gonna take any crap but “Fearless” is moving past that. So that would be taking it to the next step.

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Julie Blacklow Today

Blacklow: Yes, I’ve been terrified at several junctures in my life. And you’ve read the book, so you know that I’ve been afraid and where those points were in my life but fearless to go on in spite of the fear. So that’s how I took it to that next step, and I knew in my career of almost 40 years that I had just kept going and never told “no” for an answer, rarely. And if there was gonna be a no, I was gonna say it.

And as a woman journalist in the first group of women in the country, in television news literally, that first generation, we had to fight and scrape just to keep the job and to tolerate a lot of sexual harassment. That word was not even in the vernacular, in 1972. so yes, fearless is just, I think courage in the face of fear, make sure that way and now given the political climate that we’re in and what’s going on in the world in America. It’s time for all of us to show courage.

JY: What do you hope people will take away from the book?

Blacklow: I hope they are inspired to be courageous.

Screen Shot 2019-07-17 at 10.08.48 AMJY: It felt like I was reading the screenplay for “Forest Gump.”

Blacklow: That’s what some others who read the book have said.

 

JY: You have been there at the eye of the hurricane for historical developments and news throughout your career. And why do you think it was important for you to tell us about the March on Washington and hearing the Beatles for the first time in 1964. It feels like you were a witness to history.  Why do you feel like that was important? 

Screen Shot 2019-07-19 at 2.49.11 PMBlacklow: I just had an insatiable curiosity. I was born with that, and it’s certainly developed as a teenager, but consider where I grew up in Washington D.C. in history, I was surrounded by it. And so, with all these events happening within 10 miles of my home, I wasn’t content to watch it on television. I didn’t correlate that behavior with the seeds of a budding journalist. I never expected to have the career I had, but it was clear to me that things are connected and that I was driven. I’ve always to see it up close myself and to find a way to be personally a witness. And so with the first Beatles concert I had to be there with the Martin Luther King March on Washington, it was literally 20 minutes from my house. Get off your ass and go experience life. You want it, go get it. That is the theme of my book. That’s how I was raised in a very, very political liberal East Coast Jewish family. I was raised to do the right thing. Yeah, I’m driven. I was clearly born to go get it.

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JY: You could have called the book, “Driven” too. There’s so many different titles that come to mind. You had a chance to work for “60 Minutes.” In light of everything that happened to you at KING TV, looking back, are you glad you stayed in Seattle at KING TV?

Blacklow: Oh, no question. I was a new mother, I was the mother of a baby boy who was about a year old, I had just convinced my parents to sell their home in Washington a to help me raise Jeremy. I do not have any regrets.

I think everything turns out exactly the way it’s supposed to.

And so for me, I was flattered that the president of CBS came and acknowledged the work and flattered me by saying, “If you ever want this, it’s there.” But I never wanted it. I wanted to go deep in a local place that I wanted. I didn’t feel like it really served the kind of do the kind of journalism I wanted to do which meant staying and creating roots in the community in which I lived.

JY: And yet KING TV uprooted you and led to a moment in the garage where it was just a friend who rang the doorbell that saved your life.

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Blacklow: I tried to kill myself. I had lost everything. I had spent 12 years building up my good name helping people by doing my job, doing it well and I received awards for my job. I never really put much status in those awards, but I knew that I had the good faith of the people of the Pacific Northwest and that they respected my work. So, I’d earned that. I’m not telling you anything you don’t know.

The response of the public that you are serving means everything. That’s the reward to me. I understand. I literally write this in the book, I said I understand fully the need not to want to live. A darkness descends on you, that’s indescribable I love words, but I had struggled to find the words to describe that.

It’s not depression. I mean it’s many degrees past that, and so yes, I attempted to kill myself with carbon monoxide poisoning in my car. In my garage and it was a good friend who just stopped by that day and wouldn’t stop knocking on the door, and so it wasn’t my time, nor was it my time on other occasions when I had various medical crises including cancer, and it just wasn’t my time, so I wrote the book, I thought, my time, what is my time best now, I was really to write it, I had reach an age where I didn’t really, I don’t care what people think, but you kind of reach a place in your life where this is my story, and this is my time to tell it. It was just the time. And so, as with everything else in my life, it was time.

JY: Yeah, so I don’t wanna give away too many of the things. I’m honored to have been able to read it first, and that can inform my questions, but your book talks about the depth that you reached and that despair, but it also talks about the small acts of kindness and support that you got from the community that I would suspect could serve as an inspiration to people. When they read it, they’re gonna say, “Oh yeah, I remember her, I remember what she meant to this TV market.” And it’s nice to be reminded.

Blacklow: People were incredibly kind, strangers, and friends, when I finally emerged from that very darkest place and to gradually get grey and then white again, lighter.  This is the powerful stuff. This to me is the core of spirituality and meaning of fullness in life. It’s right here, it’s with you. And right now, this to me is the most important. This is our life right now.

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And so I, for me, those acts of kindness, letters from many people some luminaries, some just plain folks, hundreds and hundreds of letters, some of which we’ve reproduced in the book, but there were 100. Now, I can cast them away because I never knew why I was saving everything, I was saving those pictures of me with Nixon. I was saving photographs with me with JFK Jr. I was saving letters from strangers from 30 years ago when I was fired. Why am I saving all this now? I know it would come to have meaning. And so for me, I wanted to share my life. I’m just like you.

My highs are higher, my lows, may be lower. There may have been more of them, but I saw them out. I’ve brought trouble on myself, and so I want people to say She did it. I can do it.

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JY: You left the news room for a horse farm.

Blacklow: I knew that the industry didn’t want me anymore, and I didn’t want it anymore, so it was time, to move on and a couple in 2001, invited me out to her house and I had loved horses all of my life and (to make a) long story short, I end up managing Pepper Schwartz’s horse ranch. I was still doing freelance work for the networks, but I segued out of that a over two to three year period and eventually took over managing this horse ranch. Not far from Seattle. Can you imagine a bigger career change then that? From broadcast news to horse ranch management, both are crazy, by the way. But it was humbling. Now I was in client-based lifestyle where I had to please people.

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I never had to do that before except the public, I was serving but people I was interviewing, or irritating or whatever, I didn’t have to make them happy, I wasn’t there to make people happy, but now I have. I was in a client-based business, but my job was in service to the animals, and now I was around some really magical creatures and having the fulfillment of a lifelong dream to own a horse, and it came to me quite unexpectedly. But the day I bought this little foal. She was six months old the day I bought her. I knew this was the beginning of the rest of my life that my life was gonna change, that day. I couldn’t have imagined how. And for 18 years I managed the ranch. I just recently, to use an appropriate metaphor, handed over the reins to manage it, but it’s in good hands. I still have my horse and I’m still helping manage but in a very, very background kind of way.

So it was magic, I was in nature, I was near water, and eagles, and the mountain and trees and horses and so it gave me time to think and look back at a… well, I hate that this sounds self-aggrandizing, but it is an extraordinary life. It was unusual to say the least.

JY: In this Repurposed Journalist blog I ask people, “How has what you’ve done prepared you for life after the newsroom?” I don’t think there’s a real clear cut answer that you could give me based on what happened to you.

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Blacklow’s Home Office – Issaquah

Blacklow: It’s always been my purpose in life to help people and be a good person, and inspire people and nothing has changed. It’s always been my purpose from the time I was a child when my I faked having polio in when I was five years old, to now and then through high school, when I just stood in defense of young black students who were being targeted.

No, my job now is to help people and I help the horses, I help their owners. I wanted to create a sanctuary. So for me, nothing’s really changed. Nothing. One of my favorite quotes from Joseph Campbell, is, “Can anything happen to you for which you are not ready?” So we’re being prepared at another level, sometimes for the things that happened to us. What prepared me to have kidney cancer? Tenacity, bravery. Now, we’re gonna need a lot of that. I had it. I was ready. Everything leads to the next thing.

JY: Alright, alright, so now journalism is under attack. Journalists have been called the “enemy of the people.” How does that make you feel?

Blacklow: Well, it’s infuriating. It’s wrong. It’s delusional. It’s misguided and that’s the nicest thing I can say about it, people who say these things are afraid. It’s coming from fear that they haven’t overcome. They’re not courageous. They’re not fearless. Now there are a lot of fearless journalists now are fighting back. Just today (July 16th, 2019), a journalist (Andrew Feinberg) at the White House was asked to declare his nationality when asking a question to a White House spokesperson (Kellyanne Conway), he was asked, “Where do you come from, what’s your nationality?” He’s a Jewish reporter. He was being asked this denigrating, insulting question but he fought back just like the young black women a couple days ago (July 14th, 2019) when Trump with his racist comments is spewing hate, fight back.

So what it does, what it is to me, is a call to stand up tougher than ever and fight back harder than ever and keep seeking, keep reporting, keep doing your work. There’s a quote in the book from Justice Douglas in the epilogue of my book, my favorite quote of all time, when Justice Douglas said in our constitutional regime, that, “There is no higher function than the First Amendment.” We’re being tested. We will pass it. This too shall pass. And journalism will reinvent itself. It’s always been there and it will continue to be there. And I kind of wish I was a part of it still to tell you the truth, because I would like to keep writing and punching and be the pugilist I am.

JY: Is there anything I haven’t asked you that you feel like you’d like to add right now?

Blacklow: Well, I’d like to ask you a question. And I’m an author, I’m curious to know what did it touch in you that made you want to talk about it?

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Blacklow (right) interviewing Richard Nixon (year)

JY: I was blown away by your ability to recall detail. You brought me right in there. But the detail that you remember the small smile on Richard Nixon’s face when you ambushed him for an interview with your photographer. I related to so much of that. Because for most of my career when I wasn’t doing feature stories about people who wanted to talk to me, I was chasing people who didn’t. And I felt that I had a kindred spirit. Boy, she did it and and she lifted up my life, my work and what I did, and I thought, “She was okay, and you’ll be okay too.”

Blacklow: And you were okay. There’s life until there isn’t. There’s life until there isn’t. And even then, I’ll tell you, I think there’s life after life. I will tell you that during the course of writing this book which took four years to do and for complete re-writes, it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It was harder than raising my son, and that inspires me, too, because sometimes when I write, and I look at it and I go, “What kind of crap is this that I just put on the page?” I should show you to the first edition which I’m saying, no, no, but not because I see it’s awful versus what I see now which is a tight as is moving.

JY: How do you make it fast-moving, emotional, and powerful? There’s a pace to your book, that’s just fun to read, but it moves me and it doesn’t slow down.

Blacklow: I remember what my mentor, Don McGaffin told me in 1972 when I was first starting in the business, (I was) a complete novice and he looked me in the eye and he said, “Don’t bore me.” So he hovered over me, while I was writing this book, and so, I kept re-writing and re-reading and getting rid of the extra stuff. Keep it moving, they tell us. Is their story interesting? And if you’re bored with it, you better clean it up to make it interesting to somebody else.

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I had to take out 10,000 adjectives. Pick better words, make it flow better. Then I reorganized the material, then pace the book. I did hundreds and hundreds of those stories, but I picked the five that I thought were revealing the evil of people. But for me, writing it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done and I wanted to give up a hundred times, and just quit. But  then I reached a point where I couldn’t quit now, I had to finish it and it was onerous and it was awful and it was, as I said, harder than raising my child. I think of McGaffin’s words to me, “Don’t ever bore me.” And what he was saying is, “Don’t bore the viewers. Don’t waste my time.” So I hope the book is not a waste of time.

I hope they laugh and they’ll probably cry at some points in the book like I did. When it was recorded. I’m recording the narration now, I’m recording the audio version of the book and its several junctures during the reading. I broke down and I asked the engineers. I said, “I’ll stop, turn it off, let’s redo that.” And they said, “It’s in. This is real.” So I hope there’s a lot of emotion in it. What did you take away from reading the book?

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John Yeager (left) and Julie Blacklow in front of her Issaquah home

JY: That I have to fight for what’s right, that I really have to fight for, even if it’s a small victory. Sometimes I have to say what I feel and that I sometimes think to myself, “What would Julie Blacklow do in that situation?” I just needed to get inspired. And so I take away that inspiration and just that life is short and you just gotta grab it and not be afraid and do it anyway.

Blacklow: That’s why “fearless” to me is the best description because it says that to me. I was afraid. Sure I was afraid, and I did it anyway.

 

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Hamilton McCulloh

After 12 years at Seattle marketing powerhouse GreenRubino, Issaquah’s Hamilton McCulloh has found a new purpose: real estate communications. The former KING 5 Evening Magazine Executive Producer and one-time Coordinating Producer with Bill Nye the Science Guy has taken a position as Vice President of the real estate practice at Seattle’s Allison + Partners, a global firm of 30 offices around the world. I caught up with McCulloh recently at a local coffee shop.

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Hamilton McCulloh (HM): “Even though I’ve been a specialist, I actually did a lot of commercial real estate when I was at GreenRubino. Tourism, health care were certainly big verticals for me but so was commercial real estate, and we always offered crisis communications, and reputation management, all that kind of stuff. So this was kind of the next logical step just to continue to challenge myself. I was at GreenRubino for 12 years. I started the PR practice and it was very successful and a lot of fun, but it was just after 12 years, it was time to take it up a notch by joining a global agency and I am grateful for the opportunity.”

“So I’m gonna help Richard Kendall and the real estate team grow the practice. Allison & Partners at a corporate level sees real estate as a huge opportunity of growth for them. So I’ll be leading key accounts, I’ll be doing doing business development, I’ll be helping manage the team.”

John Yeager (JY): Are you working in the news business at all then?

HM: Oh, yeah, yeah. Oh, quite frankly, probably more so than I have been and have been of late.

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1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey Team

JY: How’d you get started? Why’d you pursue TV?

HM: So, the reason I decided to pursue television was because of the Miracle on Ice. In 1980. I grew up a big hockey fan in Rye, New York. I played a little bit of hockey, but I also knew about the time I was 16 that I was never gonna play center for the New York Rangers. And then along came the Lake Placid USA Hockey team run in the Olympics and that moment on the Al Michaels called, “Do you believe in miracles?” And I said, “I do believe in miracles!” And I will never play the game at that level anywhere near it but the ability to share that moment with people all around the world. That was a pretty amazing impact, and I thought, what a cool way to make a living. So that was what actually put me on the trajectory to get into television.

McCulloh got his start in TV in 1986 with “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” in New York City then moved to WBZ in Boston. In 1990, he accepted a job at KING 5. He then went on to serve as Coordinating Producer for Bill Nye the Science Guy. Then back to KING 5’s Evening as Executive Producer.

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Evening Magazine 1990 – Hamilton McCulloh (pictured center) 

JY: So you’ve always been, in one form or another, maybe not all the time in news, but always working on show content, and having a deadline, and knowing what a story is. How has that changed in 30 years?

HM: That aspect hasn’t changed at all, I don’t think. Obviously, the channels and the way you reach the audience has completely changed on its head with the digital aspects, but identifying what’s a good story, and good storytelling tactics, and what’s gonna resonate with your audiences, and getting that instant feedback. Obviously we used to get it in the Nielsen overnights, but now we get it immediately with digital feedback in terms of what’s resonating with people. Identifying the story and telling it well, that hasn’t changed. What has changed is the amount of time to tell that story, because we were living in an era of short attention spans, even on Bill Nye the Science Guy, which is going back to 1993.

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1999 Emmy Awards in Seattle Hamilton McCulloh (pictured left) Bill Nye (center) 

Jim McKenna was the director and executive producer of the show with his wife, Erren Gottlieb, and he would be sitting in an edit bay in the offline, and then even in the online edits of the show, and as soon as he got bored with the segment, it could be 42 seconds in, he would do that effect where you’d cut to the guy with the remote control and the old- fashioned TV from the 50s and it would cut to static.

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Bill Nye – The Science Guy KCTS Seattle

HM: It would be right in the middle of a voiceover from Bill Nye or Pat Cashman or somebody. And he you would just cut it right in mid-sentence, and he felt like that was enough, ’cause he was looking at it through the eyes of the target audience, which is an 8-12-year-old, [chuckle] he would say, “Okay, you’ve made your point, move on to the next thing.” And so even in the 90s there was this notion that you didn’t need seven and a half minutes, or in the news business, even a three-minute story. Obviously, when you got started, you probably had occasion where you could do longer stories. And you did more features where you could go two and a half, three minutes. Good luck doing that today. Good luck writing a longer story, more than 200 words. Because if you can’t see it on one screen pass, you’re pretty much onto the next thing.

JY: So that’s changed. I think people used to have a little bit more patience with deeper storytelling, and so I think that’s just the nature of the digital age where if you’re watching things on YouTube or on a clip that you get from a link on Twitter or Facebook, as soon as your bored with it because you control it.

HM: Yeah, you have control, including when you watch it. It was like ritual back in the day, when I was first a young adult, my Sunday mornings were watching Charles Kuralt and reading the New York Times on Sunday morning. That was two hours of just total bliss.

JY: Yup, that’s just when the show was on. Then it’s an issue of trusting the gatekeeper. Then it’s a brand that you trust. And right now, we assemble our own content all the time, so we’re our own editors.

HM: Right. But that’s where PR people come in. At some level… The ultimate gatekeeper now, as you say, is the audience. The gatekeeper before that is the storyteller, and how they’re telling it, and if they’re putting any sort of context into it, whether it’s an opinion piece or just a general reporting piece. Before that there’s an assignment editor or a producer. There’s somebody that’s filtering it to get to that point. But even before that, if you go back to the genesis, oftentimes it’s a public relations person that’s teeing up that story. And if they’ve done their homework well, if they’re worth their salt, they know the reporter or the assignment editor, they know what those people are looking for, they pitch a good story. Now, you and I could both do that ’cause we’ve been on that side of it; we’ve been the “pitchee”, not just the pitcher. And I don’t think the viewing audience or the readers or the listeners, depending on what it is, whether it’s a TV show, a radio show, a podcast, a whatever, understands what percentage. And I’ll look at the numbers, but what percentage of the stories that they’re consuming actually had a genesis with a PR person. And you’ve gotta trust the process along the way to get to the viewer, but there’s an awful lot more that goes on behind the scenes than I think most would realize.

HM: There’s only so much time in the day for the reporters. Look at it from their point of view, they’re now tasked with doing more. They’re shooting their own stories. They’re filing three times as many stories as they used to. They don’t have the time to do the research, and read the papers, and stare at the ceiling the way we used to, and daydream about what might make a good story, and go back and forth and debate how it could be a good story if it isn’t inherently a good story. So they, trusting people on the media side, need to work with people on the PR side to cultivate enterprise stories.

JY: Do you think meeting a daily deadline, or in any case in this work that you did, you still had to meet a deadline. It changed you as a storyteller. How did that do that?

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HM: Take Evening Magazine. I moved out here in 1990 to help Jay Cascio, who at the time was the executive producer, to take the show local, because the Evening Magazine and PM Magazine cooperative syndication, if you will, got cancelled by Group W, and then everybody disbanded. And I was very fortunate to land a job with KING 5 that moved me from Evening Magazine in Boston to Evening Magazine in Seattle. Because not everybody was so fortunate; there were hundreds of people that were laid off from that decision. But we put together this master plan where every reporter had three days to do a story. You had some built-in time to do some research, and pre-interviews, and those kinds of luxuries. And so you would shoot the story, write the story, research the next story. And our reporters were delivering whatever that adds up to be, four, five, six stories a month. And we would allow for more time to travel, and we did bigger productions, but we were also telling stories that were four, five, six minutes long.

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Hamilton McCulloh

HM: Fast forward to today, and this wasn’t while I was there, this was when Mark Erskine was the executive producer at the time. He was faced with this kind of challenge of how do you produce things, A, more efficiently, but also B, that’ll resonate more with the audience. And so we came up with this Evening Magazine 2.0. And now, if you watch the show, the stories are two and a half minutes, and much more involved with the wraps, and it’s just a much more fast-moving show, and they basically have to do a story a day. It’s all so different. But they are one of two local shows on the air in prime access and they have been for nearly 30 years so they are clearly committed to doing it right.

 

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Hamilton McCulloh and John Yeager (Repurposed Journalist)

HM: And one other difference now, in terms of the digital evolution in the storytelling world is sponsored content, which is touchy for journalists. If you’re a journalist with a capital J, it’s not a pleasant conversation, but it’s a reality. And so we have the ability to meet with a client who’s got an interesting point of view regarding their industry. It could be in health care, could be in government relations, could be in commercial real estate, could be in anything. And so we have the ability to do a Q&A with their CEO for 30-45 minutes and turn around and write 400-500 words on that in a matter of hours which is pretty valuable; not everybody can do that, but if you come out of a broadcasting career, you can do that.

HM: Almost every agency I know of has their own internal video production capabilities. And you don’t have to be that sophisticated about it. You were laughing before, but you can literally post something from your phone and put it on your website, or send it out via your social media channels, and get your message across even in real-time.

HM: I always just wanted to tell stories that made a difference. I always wanted to have impact with the stories we were telling. And I still feel that way with our clients. The impact might be different, ’cause it might just be building their brand or promoting something; in some cases with non-profit clients that’s a valuable community asset. But it’s still something. I want stories that resonate and have impact. So that hasn’t changed since 30 years ago.”

 

A Rare Kind of Storyteller 

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Josh Kerns

There’s no nonsense with Josh Kerns. He will set you straight. He’s passionate about getting the story right and making you care about it. This former TV and radio journalist has worked for KIRO 97.3FM, KOMO 4 TV, KOMO News Radio in Seattle, Potomac Radio News in Washington, D.C. and KMMS in Bozeman, Montana, where he got his start in broadcasting in 1990. Kerns received his Masters in Journalism and Public Affairs at American University in Washington, D.C. in 1995 after graduating from Montana State University in 1991.

It’s rare that a storyteller can jump back and forth from journalism to public relations and back again but that’s exactly what Josh Kerns did when he joined KIRO Radio and MyNorthwest.com as an anchor and reporter in 2007. Ten years later, he left KIRO to become the principal at Cypress Point Strategic. Josh has won several Emmy and Edward R. Murrow Awards. He’s spent several years meeting a daily deadline as well as serving as a strategic communications consultant, multi-media producer and account manager for top public relations firm, Waggener Edstrom, where he handled communications campaigns for Microsoft, Victoria Secret SAP and others, securing coverage on CNN, ABC, CBS, NBC, BBC and National Public Radio. You can read all that on his Linked In profile page but what links all those experiences together is that Josh Kerns has always been a storyteller. Today, he tells physicians’ stories as Director of Communications and Marketing for the King County Medical Society.

I sat down recently with Josh Kerns to talk about his career and finding purpose after life in the newsroom.

Kerns interviewing Dr. Josh Liao/UW Medicine for DocsTalk podcast

Josh Kerns: I am officially the Director of Marketing and Communications. I have a twofold mandate. One is to give voice to the thousands of physicians and retired physicians in King County and the other is to grow our membership, to create as much value so that people will join.

John Yeager: What does that entail?

Kerns: Everything from external communications, traditional PR, I produce a podcast, I do media relations, placing our doctor’s stories in radio, TV, newspaper. I help our physicians put together op-eds. I work with other partner organizations that our doctors are passionate about. For example, one of our docs, a primary care doc up at Evergreen in Kirkland, very passionate about the Clean Air Initiative that was on the ballot this fall. I worked with him and the campaign to help them get more coverage around the medical side of the Clean Air Initiative which ultimately… Clearly, I’m not very good at it because it lost by 20 points.”

“So really all of those things, but then also on the marketing piece, it is raising awareness for physicians to join the organization. There is a huge branding marketing component to it which is, “How do I create as much value through partnerships with organizations, discounts on home loans, car purchases?” Tangible things like that and then creating different marketing vehicles. How do I get the word out to you, John Yeager, (let’s say you’re a pediatrician in Bellevue) that you should be joining this organization? So, there is a sales component, a marketing component to it which may involve storytelling, my journalistic background. But at the end of the day, it is still very much separated from my public information officer role, if you will.

Yeager: I started The Repurposed Journalist a few years ago, and I’ve talked to so many different people, the blog is basically to describe life after the newsroom. So, what’s your purpose now? You talked about what part of the job entails and you headed that way, but what would you describe as your purpose?

Kerns: I think my purpose, John, at the end of the day is not that much different from when I went into this and got my master’s in Journalism. That’s a plug for American University. My purpose is to raise awareness, to shine a spotlight on things of importance to me and the world and the community. I would like to make the world a better place. So therefore, I would say that my mission is to do that, just depending on who hires me. As a Repurposed Journalist, maybe I didn’t have a specific constituency other than the general public. Now I have doctors in this role. But before it was Microsoft over the last few years and the UW Medical Center and the Mariners, when I do work for them. So, it’s always to give voice to tell the best possible story on behalf of whoever it is that I’m looking to shine a light on. Much like you, it’s still… At the end of the day, it’s about finding the story and telling the story.

Yeager: Alright, so I can look on LinkedIn and see the highlights of your career. What do you like to emphasize? You were a journalist, you met a daily deadline for many years. How many years? In and out of journalism. As I recall, you were in the local journalism scene, then you went to PR and then you went back to journalism. Unlike many people, you’ve been on both sides of that divide. How would you describe your career?

The Liberal Media?

Kerns: I would say that I always had a short attention span and always was interested in a lot of things. Whenever people talk about… This is my soapbox for a second. When people talk about the liberal media, I proudly wear that badge not from a political standpoint, but from the true sense of liberal, broad. Think of a liberal arts education. I’ve always been interested in so many things. And so, I would characterize my career as a constant curiosity and a constant desire to do a lot of different things. Which is why I bounced from… I started in college radio playing punk rock. Somebody handed me a copy one day because the news guy didn’t show up and I liked doing the news. And then I liked telling stories. But I also loved the visual side of television news. One of the things you did so incredibly, marrying those two and then figuring out how to do it. But I also wanted to do serious and I wanted to do sports and I wanted to do music and I had a music show on KIRO. So, my career I would characterize is, before it was cool to have 50 jobs, I wanted to have 50 jobs because I didn’t want to do the same thing over and over and over again.

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Kerns at T-Mobile Park Producing His Weekly Feature for Mariners Magazine/Mariners Radio Network

Kerns: And I think it has been reflected in that I’ve been a TV sports anchor. I’ve been a TV news reporter. I’ve been a radio host. I have produced stories for the Mariners, but then I also did, like you said. I left, got Hat Hunter now, went to Microsoft and did PR and came back because I found that I liked being around real information and not being… Trying to sell you on Windows Vista as the next great operating system, which we all know what happened with that. So that’s, I would characterize, as a very diverse career, constantly looking for something new, interesting that keeps me going. And I always encourage you. At the core, it’s still journalism. I write stories on a regular basis for our newsletter. I help others tell their stories. So, the story is still the core of it and it’s that innate curiosity about the world.

Yeager: My next question was going to be, “Define a journalist”, but I think you sort of just did with that answer. You have a natural curiosity to tell stories.

Kerns: Shining a light on those things that I feel the world needs to know about. And it doesn’t have to be just a politician’s peccadillos, financial malfeasance, but it is those things. It’s providing information to people that they wouldn’t otherwise have and maybe enriching their lives. So that to me at its core is what a journalist is, is somebody who wants to help. I don’t want to say… I hate the term “truth.” I know I have a strong feeling about what is the truth. Facts are the truth. You can argue whether or not you believe in the politics behind climate change, but you can’t argue with 40 years of data, I don’t think. So, me as a journalist, my role is to provide you that information and hopefully will empower somebody else to do something, whatever that may be.

Yeager: Do you miss the daily deadline at all?

Kerns: No. And it’s funny… The adrenaline… You know what? I miss the adrenaline when stuff is actually going on. I don’t miss the deadline of, “You’ve got to get something on the air at 3 o’clock no matter what, come hell or high water,” because it was always compromised. What I do miss is the excitement of when something is really going on, being at election night as the votes are being tallied. Of course, that doesn’t happen anymore. You gotta wait for the fourth drop six weeks from now. But I miss breaking news especially. I loved being in the middle of that. I miss being out there every day in just the throes of whatever is going on and being right there on the front row of history being made on a daily basis. So that I miss. And I miss the people.

Kerns: You know this. I miss not knowing what my day was gonna be like and at the end of the day it was rarely what you thought it was going to be. And whether that is an explosion, whatever, or just simply you went to the City Council meeting and you met this person and something happened and this vote… Just being plugged into everything. I miss the sort of energy and adrenaline of that. But I think Twitter and social media has satisfied a lot of that. I seem to get maybe… It’s sort of like though… I think like real sugar versus… Yeah, it’s a drug. Because that desire to know everything that’s going on and be right there plugged in, you can do it a lot more without having to be out on the streets. I don’t have to go to City Hall in order to know what’s going on.

Yeager: I’m always fascinated by the answer that people give me to this next question, which is, how has being a journalist helped you do what you’re doing now? Most people say that it’s a muscle that they used as a journalist and now they’re still using that same muscle. So, you get to do the same kind of work that you did when you were a journalist. So, it has helped you do what you’re doing now. I see it every time you print something or your podcast comes out. But it has helped you. Being a repurpose journalist now had a lot to do with being a journalist before.

A World in Need of Context

Kerns: I agree 100%. But I would take it beyond that, John. And that is, go beyond the muscle. But the skills, I think there is… that journalists are undervalued. The broad range of skill sets that are out there. Having to write and communicate effectively is an increasingly lost art. MIT teaches kids, is forcing now their grad students to take improv and speech classes ’cause they cannot communicate. We live in a world increasingly with information overload, but a lack of context. I think the ability to synthesize an idea clearly and somewhat quickly under deadline. But just in the world, to be able to see the world broadly and hone it in to a… Whether that’s for a business in the role of PR or whatever, as a strategic thinker, in any sort of capacity. As a parent. I also think that being exposed to so many people and ideas… Because if you study in a specific academic track, you’re a scientist, you’re around a certain way of thinking that was their dogma, their ideology, whatever, and you sort of get pigeonholed into that and it’s very hard to be exposed to broader ideas.

Kerns: As journalists, we’re exposed every day to different thoughts, to different perspectives, to different ways. So that therefore hopefully you can see the world as a journalist, as a repurpose journalist, with a much wider lens. Now, I would say that the drawback to that is that we see bullshit for what is bullshit. Your bullshit detector is much greater because you know the truth. Not to take stuff for face value. And that’s what’s made these last couple of years so damn hard. Because there’s just… You can’t tell me… The sky is blue. You cannot tell me the sky is not… You can’t tell me you don’t believe that and that I’m a fake news…

Yeager: Yeah. That’s hard when I have friends who voted one way and blamed reporters and blamed the media. They just have a job to do. So, journalists are under attack now and we don’t have to talk about that because… Well, that may be one of the reasons that you don’t miss doing a daily deadline right now.

Kerns: Well, it’s funny that you say that. In my last few years, and this is not exclusive to the right, I came under attack multiple times from the far left, from Kshama Sawant and some of these people who basically want… Who told me in no uncertain terms, I should report it their way. That I didn’t have a right as a male, as a white, whatever… Facts are still facts, information. And it is an industry under sought. I think we need it more than ever. I think it’s misunderstood. And I would say, if I was gonna issue a challenge to this generation… Who stay within the industry. They have to be much more… They have to almost do a PR campaign around journalism to inform, “What does a journalist actually do? What does that mean?” Because we have ideals and people sort of subscribe to these generalized notions that they saw in broadcasting just 25 years ago, whatever. But they’re wrong and they’re not true. And the people who are out there every day dedicating their lives to doing this, I think it’s incumbent on them and their employers to tell the world, “What does journalists actually do?” Because maybe we can rebuild some of the trust that the public should have in them.

What’s Next After Life in The Newsroom?

Yeager: One of the reasons that I started doing this is that when I got my masters at the UW in 2013, they said, “Well, start a blog. Write about what you know.” And it was like, at that point I had just left the business and I was trying to repurpose myself. And Hanson Hosein, the head of the MCDM, said, “Well, that’s your topic. That’s your title. That’s it.” That’s what it is, it’s the Repurposed Journalist and my audience is the people who are in the business who don’t think they have any options. Once they’re done, they feel like they’re gonna be, “Oh my God… ” What advice do you have to somebody who’s looking at a transition out of the newsroom? What would you tell them about life after the newsroom?

Kerns: There is tremendous opportunity. The skills you develop that you have to exercise at a high level every day as a journalist, and whether that is print or broadcast. And the notion of, “I’m a writer only.” No, we’re all writers. At its core, we’re all writers, first and foremost. But I believe that the industry, the culture of journalism, was always such that it denigrated over the last, say, 25 years. The value… The self-worth of journalists to think that they couldn’t do anything else. The opposite is true. The skills you have as a writer, as a communicator, as a critical thinker, as a project manager, as an organizer, as a nimble actor, are all so incredibly vital to business. Whether directly in PR, marketing, advertising. In so many ways, in project management. And I think that the biggest advice I would give people is to start to network outside of the industry and figure out, “How do you translate those skills? How do you first identify them?” And I’ve had this conversation, John, with you and with many other people.

Kerns: The first step is being able to self-identify. What am I good at? What are those things? And then being able to translate maybe the verbiage for the industry or the field that you’re interested in. Whether it is advertising, marketing, PR, something unrelated, non-profit work. And then start to network and begin to plug yourself in. And what you will find is, a, that you can take a lunch break and that you can actually have weekends and holidays off. B, that people will pay you way more than they pay in the news business for these skills that you have acquired, that you have rightfully earned. And, c, that you will bring such an incredible value that is missing from so many organizations. I will tell you, I’ve worked with Steve Ballmer, Bill Gates, Phil Kahn. I have been around top-level CEOs in this community for 20 plus years, both as a news person, but as a strategic communicator. Your comfort with being able to be around those people, all of my work with the Mariners and the Seahawks in the locker room, translates directly to my ability to sit down with the CEO.

Kerns: You as a journalist, you can do that too. And I would say start to build that network outside of it. Get out of the bubble and don’t listen to the boss say, “You can’t do anything else,” or, “You’re lucky just to have this job,” because that’s bullshit. There are a lot of people in Seattle specifically who would kill to have you if only they knew you were out there.

Yeager: Anything I didn’t ask you? I mean we could talk for hours and hours.

Kerns: Where did my hair go? Why did I get out of TV? People say, “Why did you stop doing TV?” I said, “I was 40 pounds lighter and a lot more hair.” No, I think we got it.”

Bold for Blood

The idea behind “Bold for Blood” was simple enough. Donate a pint of blood, take a picture with a #BoldforBlood sign, challenge three friends to donate. Post it on social media. Done. But it wasn’t that easy.

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John Yeager – Bloodworks Northwest

When I came in July 24th to donate at the Central Donation Center on Seattle’s First Hill, my blood pressure was too high. They call it white lab coat syndrome, defined as “exhibiting heightened blood pressure in a clinical setting.” But the next day, it was back to normal. My phlebotomist, Jeffrey Rhubottom had calmed me right down. Within a few minutes, the donation was done. I had the picture taken, issued the challenge to three friends and posted it to social media.

This might be a good time to tell you that I used to be a TV news reporter for KIRO 7, KCTS 9 Seattle Channel, KCTV and KCPQ13 here in Seattle. In the two decades I spent as a journalist, I was lucky enough to win more than 30 national, regional and local awards for excellence in journalism including 17 Emmys. In that time you meet a lot of people so that’s the community of friends from which I decided to appeal. Within a few hours of my donation, a former Q13 colleague, Harry Higgins had accepted my challenge and made an appointment to donate. A couple of days later, long-time donor and reporter Denise Whitaker from KOMO 4 TV accepted the #Bold for Blood challenge.

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Harry Higgins Former Q13 News Photographer

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Denise Whitaker KOMO (left) Ron Lim Bloodworks NW (right)

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John Fisher The Sound 94.1 FM

 

 

 

 

 

 

The next day, another friend, radio announcer John Fisher from The Sound 94.1FM accepted the challenge. I was there with him when he came in and donated. He was in and out in 45 minutes. #BoldforBlood was designed to respond the shortage of blood that centers like Bloodworks Northwest encounter every summer. This campaign for blood surprised me, in a good way. It became personal. I realized when John was sitting there getting a needle stuck in his arm, he did it because I asked him to do it. He told me he was “uncomfortable” around needles. Tryphanophobia, they call it, the fear of needles. But he overcame that because he was thinking to something bigger than himself and because a friend had asked him to do it.

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Marc Nowak – Aegis Living

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Gregg Hersholt – KOMO NewsRadio

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Yeager & Eric Riddle KING 5 “Evening Magazine”

 

 

 

 

 

A couple of days later, Aegis Living’s radio voice Marc Nowak accepted my challenge. Then another former KIRO colleague Gregg Hersholt, now the morning drive host for KOMO News Radio stepped up. Then another colleague, KING 5 Evening Magazine producer Eric Riddle rolled up his sleeve and made a donation. “That was some guilt trip you laid on me, Yeager,” he joked.

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Chris Cashman – KING 5 “Take Five”

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Chris Cashman – KING 5 “Take Five”

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Brian Callanan – Seattle Channel & Phlebotomist, Jeffrey Rhubottom

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reporter Chris Cashman from KING 5’s “Take Five” show, who’d done work with my daughter, Kate on KING 5’s “The 206”, also accepted my challenge. Chris did a humorous and compelling first-person story on how easy his donation was despite his trypanophobia. He in turn, challenged KING 5 morning news anchor Mark Wright who I’d worked with at Q13.

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Mark Wright – KING 5 Anchor/Reporter

The next day, another former Q13 colleague, Seattle Channel’s Brian Callanan said yes and came in to donate. On September 4th, KING 5’s Mark Wright answered Chris Cashman’s challenge and donated his pint. In almost every instance, I was able to be on hand when they donated. It’s a humbling feeling watching your friends and former colleagues get a needle stuck in the arm for a cause you asked them to embrace. But with #BoldforBlood that’s exactly what happened.

It’s a challenging time for journalists today. Many feel under attack by people from all over the political spectrum on every level. “Fake news,” is the rallying cry among the haters. Journalists are yelled at, threatened and in some cases even killed simply for trying to report the facts. That’s disturbingly short-sighted and alarmingly misguided. Because I can testify that what I saw in the past four weeks was a genuine willingness to do something to make our community better and answer the call to replenish our blood supply. In instance after instance, I saw journalists and broadcasters take a few minutes out of their day, overcome their white lab syndrome, their trypanophobia and roll up their sleeves to literally Be Bold for Blood. Nothing fake about this news. Real blood. Real people who simply answered a challenge.

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Brian Callanan – Seattle Channel

So how bold are you? All you have to do is book an appointment, challenge three people you know to donate and post the picture on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. Done. See who shows up. It might just surprise you. But it’s got to start with you. Help make a positive difference.

 

 

 

 

John Yeager is Bloodworks Northwest’s Senior Media Content Strategist

 

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Ron Rutherford – Liquor Manager/Beverage Steward

I bumped into him quite by accident. I was in the Gilman Street Safeway in Issaquah looking for a hearty red wine to go with the steak we were having that evening. As I turned from the wine rack, my coat caught on a bottle on one of the lower shelves. It fell, landing on the thick glass of the bottom of the bottle. Amazingly, when it hit the floor, it bounced up and landed upright. I was lucky but the noise shocked me. Hearing the commotion, the wine department manager rushed around the wine shelf to see what had happened. I recognized him immediately.

Ron Rutherford.

I knew Ron from my days as a feature reporter at KIRO 7 in the mid-90’s. He started there as a weekend producer, 7pm producer and filled in at 5pm, which is where I met him. Then he went on to produce the morning show. Rutherford was in the news business as a producer or director from 1985 to 1997. After a few years at CRISTA Ministries, he took a job at SearchEase.com, writing editing and managing content for a monthly newsletter that reached more than 65,000 subscribers to TAOnline.com, which helps veterans find employment once their tour of duty is over. Then Rutherford took a job as the wine steward at Auburn Wine & Caviar. Today, while his business card reads Safeway Liquor Manager and Beverage Steward, he’s another Repurposed Journalist, telling stories.

He says, “We’ve got more than a thousand different bottles of wine on our shelves. A lot of people … they’re looking for something. So there’s always a story behind every bottle and telling that story, we’ve got probably 35 different Cabernets on the shelf, but you can find a different story that will help ‘sell’ that because people can engage that story and feel what you’re talking about and they’re willing to try that bottle because of it.”

In 2014, he was hired as Liquor Manager and Beverage Steward for Safeway. But Ron still smiles when he thinks back on his days chasing news, meeting a daily deadline.

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At KIRO, “I was a producer. I started out as the weekend producer and then,” he chuckles. “When KIRO went through the metamorphosis where Belo bought us,” he says, “I was actually laid off for about three months and then I got a call from the station asking, “Can you come in and help us out in the morning?” and I did. And then my return actually was the day of the Oklahoma City bombing (in 1995). I saw that was happening, I called. I said, “Do you guys need help?” and I just stayed.”

Rutherford tells me really doesn’t miss the news business. “No, I don’t. Because, John, it’s changed so much from when we were there. The news is not what it was. I was brought up that you gather the facts and then you presented it and let people decide what the story was. Now, it’s like there’s a preconceived notion of what the story is going to be and we try to filter the facts to make that story.”

JY:  But what did you get out of being a producer? Because you may not miss it, but I think it helped you in what you’re doing now.

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RR: “Well, I started my day with absolutely nothing and within eight hours I helped build an hour’s worth of news for the day and then once that’s all done then I have nothing again. And that’s what I feel here is that it gives you great organizational skills. It helps you in crisis management. Seriously, people here know that if there is a crisis going on that I’m one of the greatest people they can turn to because it’s just what I do. So those are things that I felt really good about.”

 

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JY: I talk to other former journalists and they tell me that they just learned how to do things faster. They developed storytelling muscle. They know how to identify what’s important and how to distill it and I think that you still have that.

RR: “Well, you do because … everything is based upon hours, minutes, and seconds and anytime that you can save time by doing something, that means you’re gonna have more time to do something else. So, it’s not always about how fast you can get it done but getting it done right so you don’t have to redo it the second time too. So it’s that combination of making sure that you know how to manage your time well and that is one of the things that I know has been… that was a big help for me.

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JY: What’s your favorite bottle of wine?

RR: “The one in my hand. I’ve had super expensive bottles of wine and I’ve had really inexpensive bottles of wine. Notice I didn’t say cheap. But I’ve had great bottles of wine and price doesn’t dictate what’s a great bottle. Sometimes it is the story. I look for what went into this bottle that makes it so good.”

JY: Do you still watch TV news?

RR: “When I used to be in the business, my wife never got to see an entire newscast because when I wasn’t working I was flipping channels to see where everything was. So now I get to actually sit back and enjoy it, if enjoy is the right word.”

RR: “There’s still some great productions that I see. There’s some great storytelling and I think that that part of it is still there, and that’s the part that I really enjoy seeing. What I believe that we sometimes miss is that… Well for me this is my personal opinion, the other night, we had Seattle Mariner pitcher, James Paxton, the man throws a no-hitter and by the way the team’s doing fairly well and so, to me that’s what people are talking about, and that’s what news should be, is that what are people talking about? But the lead story on one of the TV stations wasn’t Paxton, wasn’t anything to do with that. It was some sort of random attack where someone got hurt, and violence, and the police blotter and yada, yada, yada, yada. And I don’t think people are talking about that.”

RR: “I don’t know if we’re necessarily always looking at what people are interested in and what they want to hear. We’re feeding them what we think they want to hear, and we’re giving more doom and gloom. So, I try to look at life as glass being half-full instead of half-empty.”

 

JY: So, what’s your purpose now?

RR: “When I’m sitting in this department and I have someone come in, and they go, “Wow. I’m so glad you’re here. I need your help.” Because there are people who come in and search for my experience and expertise here. And that’s really a lot of fun, because it gives you a great sense of purpose in that they enjoy having you help them because they trust you. And I think that’s maybe my purpose, is gaining that trust and keeping that trust with people.”

JY: And a good finish, right?

RR: “Absolutely. A long finish.”

Repurposed Journalist Ron RutherfordRon Rutherford

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Brad Goode – Washington Federal

Try keeping up with Brad Goode. It’ll leave you out of breath. He’s part man on a mission, part kid in the candy store. For the past year and a half, the former TV anchor (KOMO 4, CNBC, KING 5) has been Senior Vice President & Director of Marketing/ Communications at Washington Federal in Seattle. And while for some, the September, 2016 transition to life after the newsroom could have been tough, for this repurposed journalist, the career move to the finance industry is paying big dividends. Brad Goode is still using the same storytelling muscles he did when he met a daily deadline and got up before the crack of dawn to deliver the morning news.

In an energetic, non-stop interview at Washington Federal headquarters in downtown Seattle Goode talked about making the leap from journalism to banking.

BG: “It’s a little bizarre, I’d been looking to transition for maybe six, eight months, just saying, “I love business. I’ve covered business for years in news.” And I just thought the time was right to jump to a business that may need the skill set of a 30-year broadcaster, in terms of marketing, communications, community relations with the time that I’d spent here in Seattle. And after interviewing with about a dozen companies with their executive teams, lo and behold, I come to find that this bank, Washington Federal, that’s been around 100 years, had not done much marketing or promotion of itself or its products. And I come walking through the door saying, “Hey, I’m looking to do something like this. I’ve got an affinity for covering business news.” And they said, “Well, we’d like you to help us out.” And after about six or seven interviews and lunches and I was starting to wonder, “When do you get a job offer in this banking business if things are going so well and you’re meeting with the CEO?” And then finally they said, “No, we would like you to run our marketing communications department.” I thought, “Wow. Well, that’s a big step.” But they embraced what I was able to bring. I’m unlike anybody else in the building, obviously.”

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Goode at Washington Federal Downtown Seattle Headquarters

BG: “I say that because I walked in the door saying, “This institution has a great story and somebody needs to tell it. Nobody has told the story of this 100-year institution that survived Wall Street crashes and the recent great recession, and that we’re still here and that we’ve helped keep people in their homes. And we’ve helped build businesses not only here in Seattle but in eight states now.” And they said, “We do need help with someone telling our story.” I said, “I got it.” And then they said, “Can you help us improve our internal communications?” I said, “Well, what do you have? They said, “Well, the CEO just kinda talks into a camera.” And I said, “Well, yeah, give me that, I’ll make that into a weekly newscast.” “Great.” And that thing’s taken off.”

BG: “I fondly call it, “What’s up at Wa Fed?” And so I give shout outs all over the footprint, on what people are doing. In this week’s episode, I showed all of our branch employees from our Yuma, Arizona branch, out in the middle of the desert, taking their part in the highway cleanup, collecting 12 bags of trash in their community to clean up the highway. We just show what everybody’s doing out there in their communities. And it’s been so much fun. And it’s galvanized these 2,000 employees, ’cause they feel all attached, ’cause they get to watch what everybody’s doing within their company thousands of miles away.

JY: “So when you were in the newsroom, your purpose was to put stories on the air and inform the public. What is your purpose now?”

BG: “Well, now the purpose is to communicate and educate our employee base, 2,000 of them, internally. And then outwardly market our brand. Some of that’s community relations, and you understand that ’cause you do some of that. Where can we position what we do? We found financial literacy is a big part of what we do. We have found that supporting low income housing, since we have been doling out home loans for over 100 years, is a big part of what we like to do. And marketing some of our new… Our checking accounts, our credit cards, typical things that banks have, but why you should go with Washington Federal. And a lot of that boils back to our story.”

JY: “Do you miss it at all? I still see that you’re on KOMO TV on a regular basis. You’re still doing things.”

BG: “Now I get to just play in TV. But it’s not the full time gig. And I enjoy going back into KOMO and at least delivering twice a week the franchise (Goode 4 Business) that I developed six years ago now, and which is similar to what I did on CNBC. And now it’s sponsored by us, Washington Federal, so it’s kind of a neat little thing that we get to do, but it’s fun to go do that for TV and radio and then leave. And I feel like I’m more involved in something than I’ve ever been. And I would say that is satisfying. It’s surprised me to a certain degree. This bank and it’s executive team have embraced my madness. [chuckle] And we’re having a lot of fun, and I’ve created things that they never thought they would do before. But we’re seeing some success and results which makes me feel great.

JY: “What kind of muscles as a reporter are you using now?”

BG: “Oh my goodness, every day. Seriously, countless every day. Decision making, timelines, communicating with people, deadlines of course. Nobody understands deadlines, I believe, in the corporate world like we did in the media world. ‘Cause we were up sometimes (meeting deadlines) several a day. Here deadlines are a week, two, a month, six months out, which kinda drives me crazy a little bit. [chuckles] So I find I’ve had to manage time differently, but I found that what I learned in reporting and anchoring and being part of a news team really helped me transition into this team a lot easier than I thought it would be, even though it was a completely different industry. But I find that it certainly helps to know how to ask questions and dig a little bit deeper, and you have to be humble in saying, “I don’t understand that, I need to hear that again.” Because as we learned in news, if I don’t understand, how can I communicate it to the greater public? So now it’s just a different thing where I have to understand it, because now I have to make sure that what I’m marketing and communicating out, our clients and costumers will understand and adopt.”

JY: “Is there a cause now that you might have? I mean, just set aside the commercial part of this organization, which I can tell from your passion it is. But where is the cause now?”

BG: “Well, I think because we’ve committed so long ago that, as you point out, most people are not financially literate, unless they went to school and studied that, or they’ve worked on Wall Street or become a banker, they don’t understand it. So we said, “Well, how can we be a conduit, if you will, to education for financial literacy?” Because I think, as most people know, financial stress is a huge problem throughout the world and here in this country. In fact, it’s one of the leading causes of suicide, I’ve come to learn, is financial stress. It didn’t just happen in the Depression or the Great Recession. People are stressed out about finances. Why? Because they don’t have a clear understanding of what they should be doing. So as a bank, we made the decision decades ago that we need to be a partner with people whether they bank with us or not. What we can give back to the community is some financial literacy.”

JY: “Why are you so passionate about it?”

BG: “Jeez. I really need to get on the decaf. I mean, I really needed. I needed my little peanut butter bar to get me through the day, just ’cause I needed some more energy.”

JY: “No, you are so passionate about this, Brad. I mean, that’s what’s fun to see. It’s just like you really enjoy your place in the universe. It feels like you’ve landed at the right place, and you don’t have any problem being passionate about this organization.”

BG: “I talk to my wife (former TV anchor Dina Napoli, President of Napoli Communications) about this all the time. I feel pretty lucky that I landed here. It was like it was meant to be. I’d been interviewing with a lot of cool companies. I met with the leadership teams at Zillow and Alaska and Holland America and Tommy Bahama. A lot of cool companies, right? I never thought I’d be at a bank. But once I got to know these folks and what they were doing, and learned their story and how they kept 3,000 families in their home during the Great Recession, ’cause we owned the loans for everyone, we re-modified them for people. I was blown away. I was like, “That’s a real business story.” For some, that’s a life-and-death story. And we know in news, we’ve covered our share of those. And it just seemed like they had the need, I was ready for that, and it was a perfect puzzle-piece fit, if you will. So I feel… They’ve said to me in the past, they said, “Jeez, thanks for taking a chance on us, Brad.” And I said, “Well, I’d argue you took the chance on me, I never thought I would have this much fun at the bank.”

JY: “Is there anything I haven’t asked you that you feel like you’d like to include?”

BG: “My gosh. No, but you sure make this fun. Yeah, I think it’s just like anything else. Find what you love to do and throw yourself into it. It is still telling a different story every day, it’s just kinda managed differently.”

JY: “And there’s a bottom line.”

BG: “Oh, that’s right. There’s a bottom line. [laughter]”

 

 

 

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For Rebecca Hale, the biggest difference between life in the newsroom and her Repurposed Life as Director of Public Information for The Seattle Mariners is time.

“You have time to plan. Things aren’t always tied to a deadline. In a newsroom, every minute’s your next deadline.”

 

Seattle is where Rebecca Hale made the Big Leagues.

Rebecca Hale Dan Leach and other KIRO coleagues

(Hale center, pictured with KIRO colleagues, among them Dan Leach, Sharon Vale, Molly Watkins, Tim Haeck, Tom Glasgow and Donn Moyer)

It’s been 24 years since Rebecca Hale worked in a newsroom. But this Idaho native and Oregon State University grad earned her solid reputation as an anchor and reporter from 1984 to 1993 at KIRO news radio (CBS Seattle). After leaving KIRO, she took a job as Public Information Officer at the Seattle Public Library. “I had a soft landing.” After that, Hale served as Assistant Communication Director and Speechwriter and then as Director of Communications for Mayor Norm Rice.. Nineteen years ago, she joined the Mariners. Hale says, “It feels like it’s gone by in a flash. 20 years. Blink and it’s over –  Almost 20 years. “

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The biggest change she says, No breaking news. “It was a different pace.” At the Seattle Public Library you won’t get called out for an emergency literacy story,” she says. “There’s a schedule.”

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And now Rebecca Hale works mainly behind the scenes. If anyone has a microphone in front of them it’s usually not her. “I don’t do a lot of interviews. I try to have other people do the interviews. And that’s ok by me,” she said during our conversation between pitches at a recent game between the Philadelphia Phillies and the M’s.

“My family moved around a lot but Idaho’s always been home base.” After broadcasting stints in Vancouver, Washington and Boise, a former co-worker, Dan Leach called her from KIRO News radio to say the overnight gig was available. She jumped at the chance.

Hale made her mark as a reporter and anchor at KIRO FM, moving from overnights to weekend morning anchor and general assignment reporter before finally moving to weekend afternoons. She can’t remember all the awards she won. “A few,” she’ll tell you. One in particular was a UPI National Award for Use of Sound in a feature she did on Bo Jackson. Hale says she also got to meet White House correspondent Helen Thomas once.

Some nice highlights. But they all seem to blur through the lens of time. It all goes by so fast. Or maybe former journalists only notice how fast it is when they leave the newsroom.

“Journalism is being able to do things fast.” Rebecca Hale says that’s served her well in her professional life after her news career. “In newsrooms, you don’t have the luxury of time. You have to be able to work fast and juggle things. In the job I have here, when it gets hectic, I’m able to manage it without feeling overwhelmed.”

“You have to figure stuff out. And I’m not worried when I don’t know about a subject. I just keep digging around until I find out. I was in a newsroom for 12 years.” That’s a lot of experience digging.

And Hale still writes. “In my current job, I get to write a lot and spend time on each piece. For one story, I can talk to a dozen people. I write press releases and blog posts.” And Hale writes for Mariners Magazine (see below). “I get to interview people all the time.”

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What’s it like to work with reporters today? Rebecca Hale says some (one man bands) are being asked to do way too much and they don’t ever have any time. Hale says there seem to be more in broadcasting than in print. She adds, “They have jobs with more demands.” Very often, I’ll come away from an interview and I’ll wonder, “Why didn’t they ask this question, or that question?” It feels sometimes like I have to spoon feed reporters today.” And sadly, she says, all too often, there’s a herd mentality. “If you can help one of them to go on a story, it seems like everybody wants to jump on it.” But Hale says, “I still really like my job. It’s been 19 plus years out of the newsroom but I still really never know from day to day, what‘s going to happen and I like that.” And she likes the energy of her co-workers. “We have so many young people who work here.”

As for this year’s Mariners? Hale says, “It really feels like this team is going to explode. The first three months we had so many injuries. But this really could be our year to make the playoffs again. Jerry’s so smart and Scott Servais is keeping it even. It’s been fun to watch.” But when the team is hovering around .500 and flirting with another mediocre season, you have to take that fun when you can get it.

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As we were wrapping up the conversation for this piece, at that Phillies, M’s game, I asked Rebecca Hale if I could take her picture with Safeco Filed in the background. I told her it’d be better if she stood and smiled. A picture of her smiling with the sunny expanse of Safeco behind her was what I was looking for. She asked me to wait until everyone’s standing. “I don’t want to block anyone’s view just for a picture.” Just minutes later Seattle Mariner Robinson Cano homered to right field. The crowd stood up. I got my picture. And there was Rebecca Hale, another Repurposed Journalist who’d made the Big Leagues … smiling.