Saturday, August 21

Who, What, When, Where, Why & How

New here? What can I say? It's been an interesting life. Note I didn't say successful (I'm not the best judge of that), I said interesting.
Forty years in television news, in markets as large as New York City and as small as Peoria. Some in "the business" will be able to guess my identity. For the rest: hey, it's about the story, not the story-teller.
What strikes me is that in living my "interesting" life I've rubbed up against a lot of...well...uh…interesting people and events. But it's always been as a bystander. Yes, greatness has brushed by me...while I was looking the other way. Had I been standing next to Abraham Zapruder in Dealey Plaza on November 22, 1963, I'd have been bent over tying my shoes when the Kennedy motorcade passed by. I'd have heard a loud noise (or two...or three?...or more???) and said, "Hey, what was that?" Then I would have wandered off in search of a chili dog. It's been a Forrest Gump-like life.
Oh, well. In the weeks and months ahead I'll share some of my "Remember When" stories. Over the years, people have said, "You oughta write a book." This is as close as I'm going to get. React...or don't. Post...or don't. Believe it...or not.
One final thought before we start. To read these mini-memoirs in the order in which they were written you have to scroll down to the bottom and read up. Backwards. Like my life! But some of them are date-specific, pegged to events at the time they were posted, and they come closest to making sense if you go with the flow. Hmmmmm, life too?


OK, so I'm back! 
It's just that I'm having too much fun not to share it with you.

Yeah, I'm still in a money hole. I've been working the figures, and it looks like if I plan on living to 100 I'll have to work until I'm 101. Income pretty much equals outgo. Hey, have you tried the new All-Ramen-Noodle-All-The-Time diet. Yummy! And filling! 

You know, maybe I favor socialism after all!!!

But every weekday, for a few hours a day, I get to go hang out at WBOC-TV. What a treat! And what a station. I won't continue bragging about the place: you can see for yourself. Catch a newscast live at the web site, You'll be impressed.

And here's the best part. I get to do news again! Those of you who've sat in the ND's chair know what I'm talking about. It's something I was told when I left KDKA in Pittsburgh for my first news director's job 35 years ago. Larry Manne, the KDKA news director, told me: "Get it out of your head that you're going to be a newsman anymore. You're a businessman. The only reason you're going to know more about the news than that guy walking by on the street is that your business office happens to be three feet from a working newsroom."

For years and years I tried to prove him wrong: over the years with less and less success. As time went on I learned accounting, human relations, labor relations, conflict resolution, and on, and on, and on.

WBOC News Director John Dearing hired me to work with and coach the producers and reporters. Having taught broadcast news writing at three universities, I think I'm up to the task.

John also uses me as a sounding board and problem-solver. While not a manager by any stretch of the imagination, I often get to sit in when he and the news brass have planning sessions. I guess he realizes I've made just about every mistake there is to make, and by listening to me he'll know what to avoid!

But the best time--the time I've missed the most for too many years--is being out in the newsroom writing, approving scripts, answering questions, giving advice. I don't have an office. I sit out amongst 'em. And they're all kids! They're wonderful to work with, but they're kids! WBOC, as terrific a station as it is, is still in market one-forty-something. Good young journalists come here, invest as year or two or three, and then it's onward and upward. We're losing a producer next week to New Haven: with her WBOC background, she'll make it!

But when they walk through the door here they're probably just out of college and guaranteed to be green as grass.
Kids know who Lady Gaga is: but everyone in the place was clueless about Mitch Miller when he  passed away a few weeks back.

I have to watch my step, though. If you know me, you know I'm always fighting the temptation to "bigfoot" people--to shove them aside and force my way (the one and only right way, dontcha see?) on them. I've got to ask more questions so that they can find the answers for themselves.

Is it fair to say that I'm learning how to teach again?

Still, it can be amusing working with people born in the late 80s.

Here's my favorite, so far.

When the strawberry season opened a few weeks back, we sent a reporter (a one-man band: welcome to the 21st century, Stueber) to the biggest strawberry grower around, in Marion Station, Maryland. 

When I moseyed in, I noticed the story had been slugged "Marion's Berries." I chuckled. And when I got a chance I went to the reporter and told her how cute I thought it was that she'd named her story "Marion's Berries."


"Well, because of the wordplay on the name 'Marion Barry', of course."

"There's someone named Marion Barry?"


Sheesh! I hope they don't find Jimmy Hoffa's body any time soon. We've got a couple of news managers who'll know the name, and a couple of anchors. And me. The rest? Kids!

Monday, July 5

So Long, Scranton ... Buh-Bye, Wilkes-Barre

Hard to believe it, but I've lived 17 of the last 27 years here in Scranton.

Yes, I was in television before (in markets that included Pittsburgh, Detroit and New York); and I was in places like Baltimore, Miami, Cleveland and Washington in between stints here (yes, I am peripatetic!). Somehow this always felt most like home.

Now I'm leaving. And fates and fortunes being what they are, I doubt I'll pass this way again. Consider this my valediction.

Sixty-three, and I'm still pretending that broadcast journalism has some sort of a future, still chasing the dream that broadcast news was meant to be a service we provide to our friends and neighbors, and that we can have fun doing it. The hope has always been that I could somehow make a difference and along the way be happy, productive, fulfilled and rewarded.

Sound familiar? Every time I've taken the reins of a news department--EVERY SINGLE TIME (more times than I can count)--I've used those words in describing to the staff my hopes for our future as co-workers. Happy. Productive. Fulfilled. Rewarded.

And driven: I guess I should have mentioned "driven." I've never understood people who give less than their best, who cheat on their talent.

I've also always said something along the lines of; I just want to be Mickey Rooney in a 1940s musical. You know: "Hey, boys and girls, let's put on a show."

My last jobs as news director, at WNEP and WBRE, were sadly unrewarding and terribly unfulfilling. Blame the owners?
Blame me? Blame the economic hard times? Blame the changing face of television?

Your pick. If you blame me I won't argue.

One of the best bosses I ever had, Cliff Abromats (more than a bit driven himself!), told me I shouldn't be wasting my time as a news director--that I had knowledge others could put to great use--and he offered to get me started in the consulting business. Bless the man! And he even gave me my first assignments, critiquing newscasts from three top-twenty market stations for his consulting/marketing firm. I also started building a small list of clients on my own.

I had a "rep," but I'm not sure I ever had the "rap" to be a top consultant.

You know what happened next. The economy went south, and my consulting business all but dried up.

I also got hammered in the stock market.

Oprah, by the way, would have been proud of me. I always lived "in the now" and never paid much attention to the future. I was unprepared for what happened to my savings. My life savings!

And I was completely unprepared for the next freight train.

Most of you know the story. If not, here's the short-hand version. Three days after Christmas I checked in for "minor" (their word) outpatient gallbladder surgery. A friend took me home, feeling groggy, so I could sleep until the next morning's follow-up with the surgeon.

Instead, I called my friend (she remembers it, I don't!) sometime after midnight to say I had found myself on the floor and didn't know what to do. She--a nurse--knew exactly what to do, and called an ambulance. They found me passed out on the floor bleeding to death. They told me (many days later) that I was 15 minutes away from dying.

I awoke from my coma three days later in Intensive Care with a breathing tube down my throat, unable to speak or move. My kidneys had failed. Most of my bodily functions had been shutting down when I was found.

Close to a week in ICU, then it was off to a rehab hospital for three weeks and then into outpatient rehab to learn how to walk again.

Mission almost accomplished. I walk with a cane, and stairs are a bitch. But hey: having a "Handicapped Person" license plate is kind of cool.

One client, WBOC-TV in Salisbury, Maryland, stuck with me and waited for me to heal. It's the damnedest Market #144 station you've ever seen (go to their web site and check out the helicopter!). I was on a three-day visit when their assistant news director took another position in the station. We worked out a deal for me to return for four weeks to ease the transition and help recruit a new assistant. During that stint the assignment manager took a job at KYW, and the powers that be thought it would be fun for me to hang around for another month. Two months in a hotel room and loving it--and the people!

Tell you the truth--the eight weeks there added ten years to my life! I've never seen a more receptive staff: these people already "own" the market: but everyone there wants to do it better! I'm cocky enough to think I can help.

Here I am, 63 ... near-broke ... on Social Security ... the warranty on my body has expired ... but I still know a thing or two. I can still think (I think).

So under the auspices of news director John Dearing (a terrific guy, a terrific newsman, a Murrow Award winner) we've worked out another deal: I move to Salisbury, and they give me a part-time job as a sort of "consultant in residence." Not many hours, not much money, but my hope is to assist John and assistant news director Ron Krisulevicz in any way they think I can. And I get to hang around a newsroom! I'm headed to another new town, and more new challenges.

Some might see moving from Market #1 to Market #144 in thirty years as "succeeding down." I guess so, on one level. But market size isn't important to me. What is? Being happy ... and productive ... and (you know the rest).

It'll be nice to be in a newsroom a few hours a week, and great not being responsible for
everything and everyone 24/7 anymore.

Sixty-three, and I'm a little slower on my feet (OK, a lot slower), but the mind still works. I know a thing or two. I've got a move or two left in me. It makes me happy that my abilities are recognized.

My legacy in local TV?

C'mon, get serious. I'm pompous and self-important, selfish and egocentric, but I'm not delusional.

I first visited this market in 1974, first worked here in 1983, so I guess I have some perspective. The single most influential person in local TV history was WNEP's Elden Hale. I've known him for 40 years. I'm honored to have worked for him. He changed the face of TV news here. Today everyone else is standing in Elden's shoes trying to reach as high as he reached decades ago. I find it impossible to believe there are people working in TV news in this market who don't know his name. So it's easy to believe that my name means nothing to most. Nope, no legacy.

I'd like to be remembered for changing the faces of local news. Some of my hires--in front of and behind the camera--have had wonderfully successful careers. That's nice, but it's not a legacy. They're all headed for their "just fade away" years, for the "Oh, yeah, didn't you used to be somebody famous" phase of their lives.

Nope. You want to see Paul Stueber reflected on local TV every single day?

Then look at WNEP's news set. It's a third (or fourth, or fifth)-generation knock-off of the set Elden and I built in 1983 from pictures and measurements I took of the WABC set as I walked out the door in New York. The shape and the shading--all the same more than a quarter-century later. A truckload of monitors--but still basically the same.

The mountains in the background? My one lasting contribution to television news in the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre market is a cheap backdrop (not even a Duratrans!). The mountains were my substitute for tall buildings in a market with two medium-sized cities and no real skylines. So much for my "legacy," but that's it.

My lesson?
Here's what I learned in this market. I blogged it elsewhere, but it bears repeating:

Mary Tyler Moore had it all wrong. The people you work with are NOT your family. They may be friendly. They may even be your" friends." But in the final analysis the people you work with ARE ... just ... the people ... you ... work ... with.

That's what I learned in Market #52 in the 80s, 90's and "oughts."

I take my leave of you now. "Arpaul Media, Inc." will stay based here, but for the most part my head and my heart will be elsewhere.

So long. If we never meet again ...

Be well.