As I mentioned in my previous post, Carol Marin, the best broadcast journalist in the business, is retiring after this week’s elections. Between now and then, I’ll post some video clips showcasing her excellent work and highlighting a level of integrity that is rarely found in the business anymore.
The video above is a true case-in-point. Back in 1997, during her first 19-year run at the NBC powerhouse, WMAQ-TV, a new general manager and a new tabloid-style news director decided that for some reason they needed to tinker with a highly successful news operation, and thought it would be a good idea to have Jerry Springer provide commentary on the station’s top-rated 10pm newscasts. Springer taped his show right there at Chicago’s NBC Tower, and before becoming the scum of daytime talk TV, he was a news anchor in Ohio. So…hey…you know…why not? <snark implied>
Marin and her co-anchor at the time, Ron Magers, widely acknowledged as the best local news anchor team in the country at the time, balked. Marin quit in protest just days before Springer’s first commentary, and Magers followed her out the door a few weeks later (his contract was a little harder to get out of).
The clips in the video above show Carol discussing the Springer issue on “Chicago Tonight,” the nightly news roundtable on the city’s PBS station, WTTW. (Much of that discussion resonates today – nothing has changed.) The video also shows some very cool behind the scenes footage in the WMAQ newsroom the night of Marin’s final newscast (including interviews with reporters from competing stations, who, in a show of solidarity, went to Channel 5 that night when word got out that Marin had resigned).
Overnight (literally – I’m talking the day after Marin left), the station’s 10pm news ratings plummeted (Chicago was a hard news town for a long time; you didn’t fuck around with the tabloid bullshit and expect it to go over well.)
Springer did just two commentaries before that experiment came to an end. NBC sent senior management to WMAQ to staunch the bleeding; the station manager and news director were out the door within months.
By mid-summer in 1997, though, Carol Marin signed a new contract with CBS News, where she tripled as a correspondent for “60 Minutes,” as a correspondent for a short-lived Bryant Gumbel news magazine, and as an investigative reporter for Chicago’s CBS station, WBBM-TV.
When her CBS contract was up in 2004, Marin was lured back to WMAQ by a more stable management team. In her new role, Marin stuck to her first loves – reporting and investigative journalism; and no anchor work. She also served as political editor. It is from those jobs that she will retire next week.
Later in 1997, Ron Magers wound up across the river at the ABC behemoth, WLS-TV, where he anchored the 5pm and 10pm newscasts – and dominated the ratings – for over 18 years, until his retirement in 2016.
But back to the video above. It’s pretty awesome to see the “news as news vs. news as entertainment” debate as it was framed back in 1997, and to see so much support for Carol Marin in that newsroom that night 23 years ago.
Some other highlights from the video at the top of this post:
At 50:30: A moment of levity from Ron Magers, followed by a shout out to the movie, “A League of their Own.”
At 1:03:40: A poignant moment between Ron and Carol as they come out of commercial break for Marin’s “goodbye” segment (watch their hands).
Below is the full broadcast of Marin’s last newscast at WMAQ on 01 May 1997. Her “goodbye” at 21:48. And at 22:58, notice the support behind her in the newsroom that night – from both inside AND outside the station.
Later in 1997, Marin was awarded a Peabody Award for ethics and integrity in journalism…