10 Plus 1: Martin Gill On Breaking News

(CBS)
Martin Gill, the senior assignment editor for the National Desk based in New York City, has been in news for 40 years. That means he's got plenty of stories to tell. As our "10 Plus 1" subject this week, Martin tells us about what it's like working with breaking news all the time – and why he thinks that phrase might be slightly overused.

What do you do at CBS News?

I am the Senior Assignment Editor for the National Desk. I keep an eye on the "news of the day": if something breaks I make sure the proper bureau is aware of the story and help dispatch crews and equipment as needed. We also look forward toward news events and possible stories for future coverage. Prior to this, I was the CBS South Editor managing our bureaus in Miami, Atlanta and Dallas. We covered everything from Hurricane Katrina to shuttle launches and crashes to Elian Gonzalez. Before joining the news desk, I was with the CBS Special Events Bulletin Center in New York working on everything from Special Coverage on a few wars and President Clinton's impeachment to presidential news conferences.

In Detroit for CBS, I was the News and Program Director for the award-winning news team at Newsradio 950 WWJ and the Regional Feed Producer and Field producer for CBS Newspath. During my 40 year career, I was a producer/assignment editor at ABC's Midwest Bureau in Chicago, a local newscast producer and an assignment manager in my hometown of Philadelphia at KYW TV, where I won five news Emmys. I also worked at KPIX in San Francisco, WDIV and WWJ TV in Detroit and WNJT in Trenton, N.J. I started my broadcast news career as a newscaster, reporter and disc jockey at WBCB Radio in Levittown, Penn.

What single issue should be covered more at CBS News?
Education. I believe the public school system in this country is failing our children. We don't educate -- we teach for tests. There's more concern about meeting test standards than allowing a child to use his or her imagination, to explore and discover different topics. We wonder why our kids finish lower than other students worldwide...we worry too much about testing and not enough about educating.
Give us a great behind the scenes story.
During one of the many hurricanes we covered, when I was in charge of South bureaus, I had one of the scariest moments that I will never forget. One of the teams out chasing the storm --I forget which hurricane -- was out on Grand Isle, La. The police suggested that the crew leave since the Island was below sea level and about to be swamped by the storm. They started driving up Louisiana Highway One through the lowlands in the middle of the night -- I was directing them to a safe point and a state police checkpoint - when the field producer became frantic: she saw the storm's surge rolling toward them in the dark. I remember she started to scream and say they were surrounded by a wall of dark water. We worked together over the phone; I encouraged them to remain calm and decided what to do to escape the incoming gulf waters. They managed to outrace the fast rising tide. It was a moment none of us would forget: that fear they might not escape the rising waters.
Have you ever been assigned a story you objected to? How did you deal with it?
Sometimes you question stories you're assigned. But, being the professionals that we are, we discuss and hash out the story. We look at the proper tact to take and how we can present all sides of the story or issue. It's our job to report the story to the viewer and not inject our feelings into a story. We must remain neutral, unbiased no matter what one might think about the story itself.
If you were not in news, what would you be doing?
Good question -- I've been in this business since I was in high school at age 17. I love sports so I may have worked in a collegiate athletic program. I got a taste of that when I produced the University of Michigan football broadcasts at WWJ Radio. I really enjoyed producing two hours of live pre-game every week, then the game and post-game. I also produced live coverage of the Detroit Grand Prix Coverage. If I wasn't in sports, I guess I'd be teaching journalism or history.
Do you read blogs? If so, which ones? If not, what do you read on the Internet?
I read many political blogs. I love politics. It's a great spectator sport. Plus, I read "the trade" sites dealing with broadcasting and journalism. The best is Poynter's. I use newslink.org to scan newspaper and tv station Web sites on a daily basis. I'm a bit of weather geek and use weatherunderground.com and read the forecaster's blogs, especially during the hurricane season.
What's the last really great book or movie you found?
"The Da Vinci Code," Book & Movie; "Coach K - Leading from the Heart."

I don't go to the movie theater too often but some of my favorites are "Front Page," "My Gal Friday," and "Network" -- when that movie came out I remember saying that people didn't know how close to the truth that move was at the time. "All the President's Men," "Hoosiers" and "Rudy" are among my favorites…."Apollo 13," because I was fascinated by the space program and I got to cover Apollo 16, the next to last Apollo Moon mission. I love mystery action thrillers so Da Vinci Code is right up there at the top of my list.

What is your first memory of TV news?
My first memory of broadcast news was when I was probably 7 or 8. I remember hearing "Lowell Thomas and the News" on the kitchen radio in my home in Philadelphia. It was exciting to hear him report from various places around the world. My first memory of TV News was John Facenda covering news and Jack Whitaker doing the sports on WCAU TV. As a kid, I remember watching Douglas Edwards and the CBS news broadcast and John Cameron Swayze on NBC . On Sunday mornings, it was "Meet the Press." I grew up in a home where news was important. We got the Old Philadelphia Bulletin delivered at home I was encouraged to read it. I remember vividly the Kennedy assassination and seeing Oswald shot. And Walter Cronkite taking us into space -while we were earthbound? He managed to still take us for a ride in those space capsules.
If you could change one thing about the profession of journalism, what would it be?
The overuse of "Exclusive" and "Breaking News" -- two phrases that are misused and abused in our business. Too many times I see that "Exclusive" on someone else's air that same hour or same day. And "Breaking News" is at that moment, not three hours after the event occurred.
Who is the most fascinating person you've covered and who is the biggest jerk?
Three people come to mind
Pope John Paul II. I was a field producer on his 1987 visit to the USA. I followed him to all but two venues and to watch him connect with people was amazing. He had a way with people -- and not just Roman Catholics. I saw people of all faiths and nationalities in the crowds. I can still see their faces as they listened to his message of peace and understanding. It just amazed me to see people standing in rain storms and muddy field to just get a glimpse of him and to hear him speak.

On a local news level - Frank Rizzo, the bigger than life police commissioner and mayor of Philadelphia. He was one of those people you either loved or hated. But for those in the press, if you were on his good side he took care of you, he made sure you got the story.

My favorite journalism character would be Mike Royko - I got to meet him when I worked in Chicago.

Finally, who do I consider a jerk? I would have to say a some professional baseball players and basketball players. Some of these guys are just too full of themselves and sadly our kids look up to some of these characters as role models.

Finally, a question just for Martin:It seems like you deal with a lot of news that is of a pretty immediate nature -- do you prefer that type of work or have you ever been interested in news stories that are less time-sensitive and take longer to develop?
I just love breaking news! You have to react on a moment's notice – you have to make snap decisions and live by it. You know you're competing with everyone else to get to the scene. And once there, get on the air and develop the story. I personally get a rush from it, especially when you win!

However, you have to make sure you have all your facts correct when you rush on the air. So I'd rather be right, than first. Too many times I have seen people rush on the air with no facts or incorrect information only to have to correct themselves later. That puts questions of reliability in minds of the viewer.

If I can brag, during my tenure as Assignment Manager at KYW TV Philadelphia, we won the Breaking News Emmy for three years straight.


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