Note: Seven years ago, I wrote my tribute (below) to Marty Haag, WFAA-TV's longtime News Director, a few days after he died around this time in early January 2004. I tried to get it published-first in print, then on the air-in Dallas where Marty reigned.
It didn't happen.
But, after watching the nonstop coverage of the mass murders in Tucson last Saturday, I dug out "Missing Marty Haag." What I wrote then still applies now.
Part I: Missing Marty Haag
(14 Jan 2004)
I have few regrets, but they increased by one last Saturday afternoon when Marty Haag died. Although I knew him for nearly twenty years, I was probably in his presence only three times. Still, I had the inside scoop on Haag because I sleep with the media, which means I know the way a spouse can know the real deal about how bosses do their jobs.
Gary, my husband, is a Marty Haag protégé and, consequently, an award-winning, veteran television news reporter who returned to WFAA-TV after spending five grueling years as a network correspondent.
Gary is a reporter because he loves the news. Unlike what seems to be the major motivation among newcomers to TV journalism, Gary did not grow up wanting to "be on TV." He grew up wanting to "do the news."That makes him Old School, a relic from "the Marty Haag era."
The Marty Haag Era: back when news reporters pressed hard and dug deep for the story; when managing the news was about more than ensuring the sanctity of the shareholders' investments or inflating ad revenues; when "news" wasn't something that got on the air mainly because decision makers could imagine an event happening to them, their relatives, friends, and neighbors, or others who looked--almost always and only--like them.
Marty reigned over an elite crew whose relentless energy fueled the pace and passion surging through the newsroom. "If it bleeds, it leads" was the office joke, not the universal news standard and ratings winner many count on it to be today. Marty's shop was always #1 because his people didn't know any other way to be.
Even more impressively, they didn't have to think about being #1, plot it out, or pay big money to consultants to gather test audiences to suss out color schemes.
In their beloved, frenetic newsroom community (which always looked like chaos to me!), Marty demanded better than his staff's best and backed them up with whatever they needed to do their job. He shaped the values and careers of journalists who are, today, newsroom leaders at virtually every television station in this city, throughout this state, across the country, and whose influence extends around the world.
Listening to throngs of people gathered in his name and sharing their "Marty stories" all across the city last Tuesday, it hit me hard: twenty-five years ago, Marty Haag did what nobody had else in the country had done. He hired the best people in the business and created a newsroom that looked like and reflected the best of America. That was what made him-and them-truly #1.
Haag accomplished back then what the majority of this nation's decision makers still refuse to do. He did it without chest-thumping and, apparently, without asking permission.
Now, racial amnesia seems to have sucked the memory of why print and broadcast newsrooms, and therefore newscasts and newspapers, look they way they do. For anyone serious about dismantling these racially homogeneous workplaces, Marty Haag's protégés of color are glittering testimony to his brilliant sense of business and ethics.
To name a few, at Channel 8, award-winning African American and Latino journalists shaped by Haag and now at the top of their game, include anchors John McCaa and Gloria Campos; senior news reporters Gary Reaves and Anna Martinez; executive producer Marjorie Ford; and Chief Photographer Cliff Williams; at Channel 11, anchor Michael Hill; at Channel 5, news manager John Jenkins.
On the national front, a tiny pool of African American TV executives are all Marty Haag people: Paula Madison, President and General Manager of KNBC-TV and Regional General Manager for NBC/Telemundo in Los Angeles; Drew Barry, General Manager for WMAQ-TV, the Baltimore Scripps Howard affiliate; and Janet Johnson in Atlanta, Senior Vice President for the Weather Channel.
John Seigenthaler Sr. is an esteemed dean of print journalism and a Haag peer. Former editor, publisher, and CEO of Nashville's The Tennesseean and a founding editor of USA Today, Seigenthaler is also white and a Southerner. In his personal essay in my book, When Race Becomes Real: Black and White Writers Confront Their Personal Histories, Seigenthaler admits that he struggles "to understand the...racial intolerance...so dominant in [the South] for so many years." Then he goes on to say:
Racial profiling, police brutality, pink lining, affirmative action and voter disenfranchisement continue to challenge journalists to explore and expose issues more subtle than the blatant segregation that once provoked street demonstrations and evoked the strains of "We Shall Overcome."
There was a time when I listened to that anthem and wondered whether "they" would, indeed, ever overcome. Now I wonder whether we all will. http://www.siupress.com
All the emotion-choked outpourings and laughter that laced the grief Marty's crew shared this week added up to a single message: From now on, in the work those they do every day, Marty lives.
Marty's tribe was part of an authentic American newsroom. He challenged the way journalists-reporters, photographers, producers, staff, and newsroom managers-perceive and report stories, period, and most definitely stories involving race.
Marty Haag didn't just wonder about overcoming. He did it.
I'm really, really, really missing Marty Haag.
PART II. Still Missing Marty Haag
(11 Jan 2011)
Seven years ago, Nann Goplerud also wrote her "Tribute to Marty Haag." Posted on the Poynter Institute's website, Goplerud chronicled her and her colleagues' mutual love and admiration for Haag:
Marty demanded the best from his staff. His expectations were high, his devotion to the craft of journalism even higher.
He expected us to read and understand the community and world around us. He expected us to work our beats. He expected us to generate good ideas. He expected us to be great storytellers. He expected us to be courageous. He expected us to be first. Mostly, he expected us to be right.
Imagine that today: Courageous reporters with good ideas who're first on the scene, telling great stories framed by their knowledge of their community and the world, required to get it right.
Imagine reporters working to those standards, breaking the news of the Tucson massacre, that ironically unfolded on the anniversary of Marty Haag's death.
Instead, as I posted on Facebook last Saturday:
I feel like I'm playing one of those multi-level chess games, you know, where one layer is stacked on top of the other and you're playing them all simultaneously because the other thing that keeps slapping me upside the head throughout all this is the maleness and the whiteness of the reporting/commentator field for all of this coverage.
I mean, WTF?!!
What happened to the sistas doing the news? (Even the young blondes with the valley girl cadences on the mic ain't gettin no play in this one.)
What happened to the reporters/commentators of color?
I just saw Christiane Amanpour, my girl with solid creds honed in death spots globally, all glammed up on ABC News, babbling something inane.
And Pierre Thomas, a fine brotha, did a package right before Amanpour where he was listing the common characteristics of the deluge of mass murderers since the VA Tech massacre.
What did Thomas list? "Young, angry, troubled, and with a gun."
What did he completely sidestep? "White, male."
But I can't be too hard on the brotha. He's got editors (do I need to say "white network news editors"?) and he's tryinta keep his job. Apparently, that goes for Amanpour, too.
Seven years later to the day, I repeat: I'm really, really, really missing Marty Haag.