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.