How did you get involved in media and journalism?
I graduated from college on a Sunday and walked into a small cable talk news channel that was about to be launched by NBC that Monday. America's Talking evolved into MSNBC three years later.
You've won a number of awards over the years. For what coverage?
I've won honors for covering topics as various as osteoporosis with Blythe Danner to Pope Francis' visit to America, a look at the history of McSorely's Ale House, and "The High Holidays Going High Tech for the HomeBound". My first EMMY nomination was very special to me though: I was working on the "Dr. Steve Show" for Tribune and was friendly with Dolly Parton's management team.
My pitch was different than anything they expected, and it was simple: I wanted Dolly to explain how her parents kept 12 children happy and healthy in a single-room, dirt-floor home in the Smokey Mountains. I wasn't interested in her fame; it was all about mountain medicine and growing up poor yet surviving. It was a medical show. It was in essence a look at "Dolly: the girl from Pigeon Forge," rather than the icon she had become.
Through laughter and tears, some gingerbread, and
a lot of research, it was magic. Dolly herself was touched by how thoroughly and genuinely we told her story in a unique and "real" way. Her manager said it had been the best interview she had done in 20 years.
For people not familiar with MetroFocus, what range of topics and issues do you cover?
MetroFocus aims to be as varied and as interesting as New York City.
We generally deliver a dose of "day of air" news, an issue that affects us all, and a bit of culture gets thrown into the mix. The show breaks down to three or four segments in 25 minutes. Being on public television, I have the luxury of letting a segment breathe. It's a genuine gift for a storyteller.
What stands out as one of your favorite segments?
There have been so many great segments and events over the years. I think overall Jerry Lewis and Shirley MacLaine come to mind first for their celebrity. But also, as the son of a Holocaust survivor, my initial meeting with Elie Wiesel (who was in Buchenwald at the same time as my father) was a major event in my life. That just scratches the surface. I've been blessed to thoroughly enjoy so much of what I do professionally.
What issues do you hope to explore more deeply in 2019?
If it's affecting us, I want to report it. Our failing infrastructure, poverty and inequality, the opioid problem, the rising tide of hate in America, education, politics (both local and national), and climate change all come to mind, as does Broadway, culture, the arts, and all that is welcome in living rooms around the tri-state area. My hope is that when you watch
MetroFocus, you leave with something you didn't have or know about before. I want there to be a genuine "takeaway" for the viewer.
Where do you get many of your story ideas?
Ideas come from so many places. There is of course the news of the day, but a segment can be born from anything and from anywhere. A photo can spark an idea, a song lyric can lead you on a tangent. Generally though, as a journalist, my goal is to hold up a mirror to the viewer and discuss and explore what you/they are interested in.
What advice do you have for people who want to send you a segment pitch?
I advise publicists to please know the show. So many people send generic pitches to venues that are not at all viable, so not only knowing your product and knowing the show you want your client to appear on is paramount.
From that point it's all about how can we work together to tell our stories and have a conversation so that the viewer will have enjoyed the time spent, and come away enriched by the 6-8 minutes we've spent together.
Provide some tips on how nonprofits can improve their story pitches.
As it relates to television:
- Think visually. What assets can you provide to make a stunning segment?
- Pre-interviews are a rule, not an exception.
- Know what the main point is you need to address but don't forget context along the way.
- Talking points are a big plus and please send bios, links, and the information that will interest me in what you're pitching.
- Grab my attention with your headline, personality, or product.
- How can we make this segment different from others done before?
- And smile while on the phone; it's infectious.