A Brand New Journey: From Network News to Startup

April 10, 2015. My final daily newscast at ABC News Radio

29 years as a network radio news correspondent is enough. The clock has run out on my oath of impartiality.

During my time at ABC, and before that at RKO, CNN, the BBC, IRN and LBC, (why are most networks acronyms?) I took that oath seriously, and was lucky enough to be a eyewitness to history. I covered presidential campaigns, foreign wars, OPEC conferences, the near collapse of the financial system and two royal weddings.

From the fall of the Berlin Wall in the heady days of November 1989 to the streets of New York on that dreadful morning of 9/11, I tried to be as fair and as objective as possible.

Now I’m free to say what I think.  And I have a lot to say in this blog and on the radio.

You will disagree with some stuff, but hopefully I won’t be blowhard.  We have more than enough of that already. No one is right always, and if my time as a reporter has taught be anything it is that all of us are at least somewhat flawed and a little bit foolish. 

What those years bred in me, more than anything else, was an abiding revulsion for ideology, in all its guises,”  the great New York Times correspondent John F. Burns wrote last weekend in a retirement column summing up what he learned while reporting from “some of the nastiest places in the world.”

Unlike John Burns I made a lousy war reporter. The things I carried back included a view that a measure of ideology is vital for any democracy.

But I passionately agree that “it can be depressing beyond words to hear the loyalists of every political creed – whether of the left of of the right – adopt the unyielding certainties common in totalitarian states.”

Wisdom can be found in unlikely places. But our public square has too often become an echo chamber for narrow, angry rhetoric.

The internet was supposed to open us up to a vast array of new information sources.  But instead most of us have used it to retreat into our cozy cultural bubbles.

It’s time to listen with respect to those who make us uncomfortable. Successful business leaders and entrepreneurs know this already. The chattering classes are lagging behind.

This may be hopelessly wrong, but I believe the marketplace for snarky, rigid, and negative rhetoric has reached a low water mark.

I’m setting up shop as a solutions guy.  A podcast called “How Do We Fix It?” will be launched next month and a talk radio show may follow. As I said at the end of my last newscast at ABC, “thanks for listening.”

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Basil Fawlty Lives!

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Blue Rooster on a plinth, Trafalgar Square, London

London –

OK this is it.  Final thoughts on my trip to England.

The blue rooster on the old grey rectangular plinth once reserved for a statue of a long-dead member of Britain’s ruling class near Nelson’s Column, is an example of how many here would like to think of themselves.  Fun, a little bit excentric, but very much in touch with their roots and proud traditions.

Cocky perhaps!

Irony, wit and a love for language are delightful ingredients of English conversation. In newspaper columns and on the BBC there is often a pleasing irreverence that is missing from our more earnest commentariat.

street performer in front of The National Gallery, London

Street performer in front of The National Gallery, London

From West End theater and the enormous London Eye, to street performers dressed in gold relaxing on invisible chairs in front of gasping crowds, there is much to amuse tourists.

All very fine as far as it goes.

But scratch beneath the jolly surface and you will often find service not with a smile, but through gritted teeth. The impossibly rude hotel manager Basil Fawlty still lurks somewhere in the English soul.

While this may sound strange coming from a guy lives in New York, many English people do have a problem with sincere good manners.

When New Yorkers say “thank you”, we usually mean it.  Not here. There’s often a shocking insincerity on display, especially from the comfortable classes.

One of many examples I witnessed in the past few days was in the foyer of a modern London office building.

“Oh, you are so extremely kind,” said a posh chap with an apparent straight face to the uniformed security guard, as he was allowed through metal turnstiles despite failing to present his corporate ID.

Did the man with tailored suit and silk tie mean what he said? Not a chance.

The owners of the country bed-and-breakfast where I stayed last weekend threw a late-night party for a bunch of loud friends right below my bedroom.  There was no hint of apology the next morning.

Cell-phone conversations on commuter trains are often long and loud here. And while that often happens on Metro-North, the English pride themselves in being proper and polite in a way that few Americans would claim to be.

Did any of these minor wrinkles spoil my trip? No way.

I still love it here. But a little more warmth and spontaneous kindness would not go amiss.

What’s your view of the English? I’d love to hear it.

 

 

Pope Francis: Truly Radical

London –

There ‘s nothing quite like travel to change my mind.

One of the joys of being over here in England is to read the British press (there are at least 9 daily national newspapers) and listen to the BBC.  The art of conversation is highly prized and a crucial part of a rich and very old tradition of rhetoric and dialog.

What’s striking is how many parallels there are between what Americans are talking tabout and what’s front and center in this green and pleasant land.

One example is the buzz about the new Pope. Although most Brits gave up on organized religion years ago there is great chatter about the new guy at the Vatican. Suddenly The Church is relevant again.

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(photograph by Catholic Church England and Wales)

Catholics are going through a remarkable time of change, brought on by a man who was elevated to the papacy by one of the most conservative electorates of modern times: the College of Cardinals.

Without actually breaking yet with any  outdated Church doctrines, Pope Francis has utterly altered the conversation.  His latest splendid salvo came this week in the Italian town of Assisi, where his namesake, Saint Francis, lived in the 12th Century.

“The Roman Catholic church, from the lowliest priest to the pontiff himself, must strip itself of all vanity, arrogance and pride and humbly serve the poorest members of society,”  The Guardian reports.  What a switch from the pomp and certainty of the recent past.

“There is a danger that threatens everyone in the church, all of us. The danger of worldliness. It leads us to vanity, arrogance and pride,” the Pope said in the place where Saint Francis stripped naked, turned his back on his wealth and possessions, and vowed to serve the poor.

“He has also said that Catholic convents and monasteries that are empty should be opened up to house migrants and refugees,” said The Guardian.

This new Pope with his emphasis on personal humility and financial transparency at the Vatican appears to be setting the Church on the course of meaningful reform.

He is a radical in the best sense of the word.

Many years ago my own father, during one of our many arguments over politics and morality reminded me of what that word really means. The dictionary definition, often forgotten in today’s feverish debates, is “going to the root or origin: fundamental.” Thanks Dad.