Speaker 1 (00:00:00
Welcome to “On Crisis”. I’m your host, Joanna Doven. And I have dealt with a lot of crisis for the past 15 years or so as press secretary for a big city mayor and in running my company, Premo Consultants. And I think we all need to know more about how to handle crisis management in the age of fake news, political discord, lightning fast news cycles and social media shaming. It’s essential that your business has a plan in place to handle crisis communications. We’re going to have some really cool people on our show talking about behind the scenes stories in city government, and corporations, employee scandals. Ultimately, we’re going to bring on people that will share stories with you to help you inform your own strategies. I promise
Speaker 2 (00:00:45):
We’re going to have fun. [inaudible]
Speaker 1 (00:01:14):
Welcome to “On Crisis” for our inaugural week. We’re rolling out three different podcasts and I’m excited to talk about Rich Lord. Rich Lord is a veteran reporter, a long time reporter with the Pittsburgh post Gazettea Pulitzer prize winning reporter. He’s won over a dozen Golden Quills. Most recently won a Pulitzer for his covering of the Tree of Life massacre which occurred three years ago. And Rich worked with me when I was press secretary for the mayor. He was the city beat reporter at the time. So we spent about seven years together and we’re going to dive into some things that happened behind the scenes at the Mayor’s office and get his understanding of where news is headed and as such how you should be handling your crisis today in the news media environment. I’m extremely excited about one of our inaugural guests today because Rich Lord, who is a renowned investigative reporter in the city of Pittsburgh, he now works for a Public Source and does a lot of in-depth reporting into economic development.
Speaker 1 (00:02:19):
And what else? Sometimes policing lately, obviously COVID. Lots of, lots of news on that. You know, Rich was what I would say the top reporter for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for a number of years. And he covered the mayor’s office when I was press secretary during one of the most significant times of tumult, the death of Mayor Bob O’Connor in 2006 and the incoming inauguration of mayor, Luke Ravenstahl, who was the youngest big city mayor. And here I was, what was I 20, 23? Young, younger than Luke, if you could believe it. And I had a very seasoned reporter, Rich Lord coming at me, and there was other reporters too. We had 11 beat reporters. Think about it back then before the media declined. I mean, the decline had started, right, but before the media decline, and if you think about it since May, because of Corona, over a hundred newspapers have just been shut down across the nation, right? So media is changing drastically, but if you think about it in 2006, there was a lot of reporting. There were a lot of reporters focused on what was happening with your tax dollars and with city hall. So I, you know, having rich on today to talk about his perspective of how the media has changed and what that means in terms of reporting on crises and reporting on big stories. I think I’m honored to have him so rich welcome.
Speaker 3 (00:03:50):
Hey, thanks for having me here. It was an amazing year.
Speaker 1 (00:03:54):
Yes, 2006, or you had
Speaker 3 (00:03:55):
A mayor get sick, you had a mayor pass away, you had a very new mayor emerge and attempt to find his footing and you’re right. You had a situation in which there were as you said, nearly a dozen reporters just dedicated to that beat consistently at that time, very different atmosphere than you have today.
Speaker 1 (00:04:13):
Right. And national media too. I mean, the attention on Pittsburgh because of, of that situation was, was pretty remarkable.
Speaker 3 (00:04:23):
Yeah. Not only that situation, but the ones that emerged over the next couple of years with the city really becoming an international global city for the first time put an enormous amount of pressure on city hall and on the people who, who covered city hall.
Speaker 1 (00:04:38):
So tell me what’s, what was your first, you know, memorable interaction in 2006 with the mayor’s office? When, when Luke Ravenstahl became mayor, what does anything stick out to you?
Speaker 3 (00:04:50):
Yeah, the first day sticks out dramatically. I remember getting the call from your predecessor Dick Sqwincher saying, you know, the mayor has passed away and I knew that he had to make many other calls that evening. And so I got out of his way quickly, but rushed down to city hall in time to see the document carried across city hall from the mayor’s office to the city council chamber that conveyed the mayor’s office to Luke Ravenstahl. And I will never forget seeing Luke looking out through that the glass from the, from the council side as that document was carried over and then just the look of gravity on his face and just the look of of both seriousness and yeah, there was a measure of trepidation there too, that I was able to see in his face. And boy, I wished at that point I was a photographer instead of word guy, because that face told you know, it was worth more than a thousand words.
Speaker 1 (00:05:49):
Right. And a lot of things, I can only imagine the, you know, when, so people probably don’t know this, but when, when mayor O’Connor passed and he was a great guy, anybody who knew him, loved him when he passed and Luke took oath, he would not give any media interviews until the, until one day after the burial, out of respect for the family, which, which made a lot of sense. So there was a period of time that you call it the honeymoon phase when Luke became mayor, where he was, I think people were rooting for him. And I’m sure you, as a reporter were like, okay, what’s this, what’s this guy going to do. So, you know, you’re beginning interactions with him. When you, when you were then able to see what he was, you know, all about interview him, deal with the administration. Did, did I’m curious your perspective from the outside? What was, let’s say the first six months of the administration. I mean, was it as chaotic as maybe it was reported?
Speaker 3 (00:06:54):
I would not characterize the early times of that administration as chaotic you had a cautious young mayor at the time. Very careful in his public pronouncements. I don’t think you had any crises in the initial couple of months of the administration, really until the issue emerged of the of the new Penguins facility. That was really the first time that I think things got hot for that administration. Correct me if you think I’m missing something on that,
Speaker 1 (00:07:23):
It’s all a blur. It really is.
Speaker 3 (00:07:27):
But nonetheless, and I think you’re right, that the city was rooting for this, this young man there was that give the kid a chance kind of period. And in fact, that lasted for quite a while, really until I would cite the first know crisis of that administration as the the emergence of a new deal for the Pittsburgh Penguins, correct me if you think that’s wrong.
Speaker 1 (00:07:48):
Well, so we have the, the 301 response line, right? And it’s so funny because when I, when I deal with clients now, and my role as CEO of Premo Consultants. And we work a lot in crisis. Communications is why we have the podcast because it’s an interesting subject and it’s, it’s evolving as the media dissipates, which we’ll we’ll talk about. But I remember w you know, my, some of my bosses, they would think something was a really big deal that was happening because they got a few emails on it. And I would say, well, what’s happening at 311, you know, let, let me call Wendy at 311, let’s see if it’s really a crisis. And there was maybe 10, 10 reports when the Penguins situation was going on 311 was blowing up. Thousands and thousands of emails and calls and calls per day. It was, it was definitely a crisis.
Speaker 3 (00:08:41):
That’s a great strategy by the way, looking for some logical metric that you can rely on to gauge the level of a, of a crisis, because I think far too often, right now, five tweets makes a crisis to some administrations. And it’s fantastic to be able to turn to something that’s more objective. Yeah,
Speaker 1 (00:08:59):
No, that’s, I, I tried, I tried to be rational as, as best as I could. Right. so the other, you know, interesting point, well, Hey, the Penguins situation got solved. And I think we know the benefit of hindsight of what was really happening behind the scenes, right? Playing, playing the card, what kind of subsidy can you get? You know, getting the best deal you know, when they ultimately prevailed, but it’s funny. Now we, we still have a site in the Hill District that is still sitting, you know, not developed are our reporting on that at all right now?
Speaker 3 (00:09:34):
Yeah. Yeah. We’ve been reporting pretty intensively on, on the twists and turns there, and obviously that’s kind of a slow boiling crisis in that you have a development that should, by all logical thinking be well on its way by now. It’s been, there’s been a community benefits agreement in place, which was its own little crisis for, for six years. And yet, because there’s continues to be mistrust between a neighborhood and a developer and then a city kind of in the middle of that. You just, you just can’t, it just hasn’t moved beyond I don’t know, the blue line, is that the right hockey metaphor?
Speaker 1 (00:10:11):
I mean, is there a, is there an absenteeism in city leadership? That’s not pushing it forward because it I’m asking this, and this is not to point fingers at anyone, but in working with communities when I worked for the mayor’s office and then, you know, clients I’ve had where I’ve had to deal with communities, there’s never going to be an agreement on all sides of the aisle ever. And, and sometimes it takes somebody just to say, just to push, push a little bit, but these days it’s like, I can’t push. Yeah.
Speaker 3 (00:10:43):
You know, different administrations take different philosophies is out of balance that I, when I started working this this, this job Mayor Tom Murphy was, was in office. And under that administration, there was a very strong tilt towards getting something built no matter what, just get something started. And then I won’t characterize really the Ravenstahl administration, but now there’s the foot is more on the brake pedal right now. Are there community, is there community concern? Does that community concern appear to be persistent and, and, and grounded? If so, we’re going to step on the brake. We’re not gonna step on the gas on development. So it’s really just a different way I think, of, of balancing that community versus development scale.
Speaker 1 (00:11:31):
Yeah. Some, some like the approach and some don’t, you can guess who likes it, you can guess who doesn’t like it. Right? I think we can. So let’s, let’s sort of dial it back and I want to, I want your, your perspective, which I expect to be pretty stark from on the media landscape, comparing it 2006, right. To now 2020, let’s just close our eyes here. And let’s pretend that there’s a significant crisis. I mean, there’s, there, there is a crisis right now. I mean, we’re okay. Two, three, four. There’s actually there’s many there’s enough. So, so what, when you talk about from a resource standpoint from having, you know, you know, and reporters and the media are there, they’re the fourth tenant of democracy. If we don’t have good reporting, how do we know what’s happening and how can we make informed decisions? Reality is there’s, there’s less reporters today. Okay. There’s less publications today. And there, there also seems to be a changing of philosophy. In some news organizations what I’m seeing in my business is there’s, there’s less grit and less desire to go after hard investigative stories from many of the traditional outlets. But I wanna, I wanna hear your, your, your thoughts and maybe ultimately what, you know, what made you leave the Post Gazette. I’ll get there,
Speaker 3 (00:13:05):
But you, you kind of set the table early on when you, when you took that job in 2006, there were nearly a dozen reporters who, who knew that terrain. You won’t find that right now. The number of reporters who are able to really dedicate substantial time to a given beat like City Hall is, you know, I I’d have several fingers leftover on one hand if I wanted to count them and the news will always flow to a crisis regardless of the staffing. So if there was a crisis in city hall right now, you’d still have a dozen reporters reporting on it. It’s just that only two or three of them would know what they were talking about. The rest of them would be flying by the seat of their pants, you know, taking whatever whatever morsel was thrown out there that day. And you just would not get the kind of depth I think, of coverage that you would have gotten, you know, 14 years ago.
Speaker 1 (00:13:57):
I mean, are we just, are we just, is the result, is that we’re just, we’re all going to get a little dumber as a society? I mean,
Speaker 3 (00:14:05):
Well, the flip side of course, is that you’re able to more easily find a whole variety of perspectives than you, than you were able to in 2006 you know, just, just by virtue of social media, it’s just, you’ll have to sort through the junk and, and find the good stuff which is sometimes labor intensive process. 2006, there was kind of one set of facts from which everyone was debating. And it kind of came through the daily newspapers and a couple of the the TV stations. Now, it seems like when America debates something, or when Pittsburgh debates something, they’re not debating based on the same set of facts, they’re debating based on two or three different collections of facts that don’t seem to overlap like they used to.
Speaker 1 (00:14:46):
That’s a really insightful way to put it… Really insightful. Yeah. I mean, we, we worked on a crisis recently involving university and without giving, giving the client away, it, it had to do with the, the Black Lives Matter movement. And and an individual that quite frankly, was, was seizing on that movement, a movement for financial gain and putting out information via social media that was not factual. And the, her, her ability to get to galvanize a a base of supporters was, was very good. And it happened really quickly. And the university’s ability to put out factual information and get it covered… That didn’t really happen. And part of that was you know, there was some legal things happening behind the scenes and when lawyers get involved, they say, don’t talk to the media, don’t do this. And then guess what you lose the public perception game.
Speaker 1 (00:15:57):
And then you ultimately could lose, you know, lots of money, right. If your reputation is damaged. But what I saw in trying to intervene, you know, I was trying to get the facts about, I it’s so hard not talking about, I was trying to get the facts out there. Right. And I went to the traditional papers to do that. I mean, I know these people, I still know. I mean, I still know editors that actually still work the Post-Gazette and the Pittsburgh Trib Review, and nobody wanted to touch it. Have you had any situations where you’ve maybe had a story that you were reporting facts and it struck ire on one side of the aisle and you were having to defend yourself as a reporter?
Speaker 3 (00:16:41):
Oh, sure. These days almost anything strikes ire on, on one side of the aisle or the other, and since George Floyd policing has been one of those major flashpoints, of course, you really can’t you really have to be very, very scrupulous in, in reporting on anything related to policing in a way that if you, if you don’t want to take flack from one side or the other, or both even a photo these days can upset people. I covered up covered up March early in the post-George Floyd era. And just tweeted out a picture which happened to include a couple of police officers kneeling with a large body of demonstrators. And I was immediately taking heat from the, from the left side of the, of the spectrum. You know, how could you post that? You know, that’s, that’s cop propaganda, that’s out of context. And if you, I gotta, I gotta give credit to, to the police union officialdom in this area. They, they, they have fixed skin. They typically recognize balanced reporting when they see it. And only if you get the facts wrong, do you take it from the police union side, but you will get criticism from police rank and file and from law enforcement supporters. If you appear to be taking kind of a pro or a stance that provides some sympathies of the kind of Black Lives Matter side of the equation.
Speaker 1 (00:18:01):
I think there’s a feeling from people on one side or the other, but I’ll just say if, if I’m, if I’m a police officer, right? And there’s a protest about if I find, if I’m an insider, I know the facts of, of why this, you know, black individual was arrested, right? Hey, maybe this person charged an officer, maybe, you know, and I know the facts. And so let’s say there’s a protest about this. Immediately, I’m like, why are you covering this protest reporter? Didn’t you like talk to us and know that this was an arrest that took place following, you know, all of the standard operating procedures and you know, this officer’s life, he felt like it was on the line and that’s why this person was arrested or tased or something. Why are you covering it? I think, I think people who don’t understand journalism, they already get mad.
Speaker 1 (00:18:58):
If you’re covering something, they think isn’t newsworthy. But just like this incident and was being covered at this university rather than one day, I’ll be able to talk about this more openly. The news media fed the cycle and they kept feeding and feeding the cycle. And it was a national issue. The Black Lives Matter movement. That’s getting tons of national attention. And the news media was able to localize that story. So they kept giving it attention, even when, and I will say, even when we got facts out there to editors and to news directors, some of them stopped and some of them became more balanced in their coverage, but it still felt very skewed to me. It felt, it felt like more skewed than maybe it would’ve been in 2006.
Speaker 3 (00:19:49):
Well, you raise a really interesting issue that now reporters have to deal with in a way that they did not before, which is what do you do when you encounter a falsehood that has nonetheless ignited and taken fire? Do yeah. But, but what do you do? Do you throw- do you report it and then report the denial? Do you try to ignore it? Uif you do report something that you believe to be false, but that it has nonetheless,uemerged as a major,upiece of,uh, you know, a major moving a piece of news on social media. Uare you just giving it air? Uif you spend time debunking something that’s a falsehood that has nonetheless caught fire, are you taking time away that you should otherwise should actually be spending, finding actual information? There’s a lot of things you have to weigh as a reporter right now,uwhen you’re dealing with falsehoods that catch fire.
Speaker 1 (00:20:42):
Who makes those decisions though? So, I mean, I guess every newsroom is different, but let’s, you know, you know, that’s, that’s the thing. I mean, and then there’s me, there’s an, we’re all individuals, we’re all humans. We have inherent bias. I mean,
Speaker 3 (00:20:56):
We do. And, and you look at, look at, say QAnon right now, QAnon is a huge, it is a crisis for democracy. The fact that millions of people appear to be very interested in something that does not appear to have a basis, in fact. Right. but what does the media do about it? You have to make decisions based on your allocation of resources. NPR, for instance, appears to be comfortable spending a lot of time debunking and addressing falsehoods and the effects of falses on our democracy. But if you’re a you know, a smaller mid-size local outlet, can you afford to take resources away from covering nuts and bolts news that people need in order to deal with the constant stream of falsehoods that that’s unfortunately polluting our society.
Speaker 1 (00:21:40):
Wow, that’s deep and it’s, but it’s, it’s so true. And it, you know, Hey yesterday, you know, Google’s CEO, Facebook’s CEO, Twitter’s CEO, they were all speaking in front of Congress about this very, very topic. Right. You know, because social media is perpetuating all of this, you know, the, if anyone has not listened to who hasn’t seen the Social Dilemma on Netflix, have you seen it yet? Right.
Speaker 3 (00:22:10):
Mom tells me I got to watch it. Haven’t done it yet.
Speaker 1 (00:22:13):
I mean it, and I, because I work, I work in media, right. I do. I’ve worked in media for, I don’t know, 2000 too long. I can, I can kind of smell, you know, I can read something and I can tell if it’s biased or I can, you know, I’m very choosy with my news. I mean, I can tell you my news routine, you’d be like, it’s not that bad. Right. So even with documentaries, you know, even more like you have to watch those. Right? But when I looked into social dilemma and I saw who was being interviewed on it, these are former major execs with Facebook and Twitter and algorithm scientists talking about how, you know, the entire goal is to keep somebody on the platform for as long as possible so that we can sell their data for more money. The way you do that is you give them things that feed their biases.
Speaker 1 (00:23:07):
Right? And so if I believe in the QAnon crazy conspiracy, and I click on one thing, it’s going to keep giving me more and more and more until I stopped doing it, then it’ll give me something else. But, you know, we’re, it’s, it’s dangerous. It’s a dangerous game. So watch, watch that every one and then, you know, think about, so let me ask you this. What is your news routine? I think this is a great question because the news has changed too. Like some outlets that were really good aren’t as good. What do you watch?
Speaker 3 (00:23:39):
Had to say and so much more is now under, under paywall that than, than was say 14 ago since that’s our starting point, but I always, I still start with the local dailies. I still then check the Times and the Post for the national news. So you do the posts, you said the Tribune Review, the Times, the Post, WSA Online. I usually have WTSA on, in the background to look at, say the, the guardian for some lefty news, frankly, if there’s something like a debate that I want to get a really different perspective on I’ll check the right, the right side of the spectrum too. I’ll, I’ll look at it.
Speaker 1 (00:24:15):
What’s your role? What’s your writing news? What writing is, would you go to writing like, right. Like,
Speaker 3 (00:24:22):
I, I love to [email protected] just to see what, what is happening there. You know, the Fox website. So, you know, I, I try to get a mixture of kind of the mainstream and I try to see what’s happening on, on sort of the the conservative side of the spectrum also.
Speaker 1 (00:24:39):
Do you see any, do any national publications come, you know, strike you as more moderate than others?
Speaker 3 (00:24:47):
It’s really hard to find anything nowadays, not, not so much anymore. It’s hard for me to find something domestic that most people would agree is is centrist news right now. I’ll look overseas. I’ll look at the, the British papers. If I want to see reaction to say a presidential debate that I don’t think would be accused of being on one side or the other. Did you watch the debates? Sure. Yeah. Yeah.
Speaker 1 (00:25:16):
Did you, Oh man, I’ll tell you the last debate. The first debate I have to confess. I had a few glasses of wine before it, right? And I wasn’t, I wasn’t, I had a tough day that day. I had a lot going on and I went to a, a small social gathering. Right. We’ve here’s how I got through coronavirus, how I’m getting through it is I decided early on: Here’s like my five good friends and we’re just going to hang out and that’s just the way it is. We’re all going to be safe and we’re gonna hang out and that’s really saved my mental health. But we had, I had two glasses of wine and there are some people who had such a visceral reaction to Trump’s behavior at that debate. And they were angry, angry. I laughed, I laughed at that entire debate. It was, it was a comedy session to me. And I think that’s because I worked in politics and I saw, I’ve seen, I remember one of the first debates the Bob O’Connor had at, I guess it would be, have been at the old Kelly Strayhorn theater. Were you there? That one Reverend that was running, he was from Homewood was his name and there was Les, Les, Les, Les Ludwig was there. I mean, we had, and look, this is not the, the, the nation’s, you know, fate, this is the city of Pittsburgh, but you know, it’s still, it’s mayors, you know, mayor’s debate and that debate, Oh, it was so funny. So, but the last, the last debate, it to me, just, it was everyone just was so scripted, you know, and, you know, the mute button made it less interesting for me. So I turned it off.
Speaker 3 (00:26:50):
Okay. Yeah. I could deal with the second debate a lot better than I could the first maybe because I have, I have foreign in-laws, and I’m often thinking, how is this possibly going to be viewed overseas? That’s part of it.
Speaker 1 (00:27:00):
You do. So wait who’s where are they from? They’re from the Netherlands. Oh, nice. Okay.
Speaker 3 (00:27:04):
They get a different perspective. And so I’m often checking the international news just to try to get an outsider’s view on, on the the nuttiness that is our country right now,
Speaker 1 (00:27:13):
What what’s, what would you say the outsider’s perspective is on our country, worse? Or is it worse than we think, or is it better than we think?
Speaker 3 (00:27:22):
Well, I think it’s as bad as you would imagine. It’s it’s for instance, after that first debate, which you were able to laugh off, some of us don’t hate me. Some of us probably had a tougher time with that, but the perspective was worst debate in, in American history. And I, I don’t know that I can argue against that. And, and the immediate go-to talking points where the the commentary about, about the far right. And, and some of the, some of the kind of racially tinge and divisive statements that were made in between the interruptions.
Speaker 1 (00:27:58):
Yeah, it was, it was, yeah, there were some bad interruptions there. It’s just, I think for me, I can’t stand and I’m not telling you who I voted for, I’ve already voted, but everybody will be able to guess. I’m sure people who want me, I got it, but I can’t, I can’t stand PC… Like the political correctness from politicians on either side of the aisle. I just want a very, I want honesty and authenticity. And Trump has, has given that, but he’s, he he’s taken it to a level that’s that’s you don’t, it’s crazy. It’s crazy. So I just wish there was a politician that would have his, have the nature of like speaking up for yourself and just not saying what’s not being crass and rude and a jerk, but not being so PC either. Like, where’s that happy balance in a politician?
Speaker 3 (00:28:57):
Well, I want to address something that, that, that raises and a crisis you’ll remember very well Snowmageddon when, when we were hit with two feet of snow back in 2010, I guess it was just a mere decade ago. You know, at that time it would have, it was assumed by reporters, including me that anything that was said in officialdom that anything a mayor said for instance, was, you know, at, on its face, assumed to be accurate. You know? So if the mayor said, we’re getting the streets cleared, you know, I was perfectly comfortable saying, Luke Ravenstahl said, we’re getting the streets cleared. You know, then I get attacked from readers who streets weren’t cleared, who would say, you know, why are you, why are you parroting what the mayor says? But that was still an era in which if it came from the top executive of the, or the county or the state or the nation, it was presumed to be accurate. And that that perception has changed and that’s made, that’s made reporting much more difficult.
Speaker 1 (00:29:50):
Oh yeah. Yeah. I mean, you don’t know if you’re being manipulated or, you know, you’re gonna think, you just assume you are when you’re getting that information. I mean, Snowmageddon, that was the most difficult crisis I’ve dealt with. I think you know, at all, because I mean, when I harken back to that time, there’s so many stories to tell. But the mayor wasn’t there, you know, he was in Seven Springs and everybody was blaming him for being away. But everyone also woke up very surprised that morning that we got 22 inches of snow. So the forecast was off, right. Everybody was surprised. And when you have a snow storm, it doesn’t just blanket one neighborhood. It blankets the entire city. So the entire city, and really region and many extra states were under, under an emergency. Uyeah, what I don’t like is when politicians try to take advantage of crises for their own political benefit.
Speaker 1 (00:30:53):
And that happened a lot in that snow storm. And that was frustrating. You know, we saw council people like Patrick Dowd and Theresa Cal Smith going into three, one, one lines helping through one staff working. Then we saw counselors like Bill Peduto and Italia Rudy and firing off press releases, slamming public works. People who were literally working 18 hour shifts. This is the last thing they needed. We needed to come together as a city. So, you know, I saw it, you know, the taste in my mouth I had for some certain people on council just was, was not good. And it remains that way today because people’s lives were in danger and there’s, and the mayor got back. I mean, I was in that EOC locked in for like a week straight. And when the mayor got back, as soon as he possibly could, like safely, he was locked in too, we were all in the EOC with all the public safety officials with the County. And I saw how hard everyone worked, including the mayor. And we did our best. I mean, if you think about it, we had to get the we had to call in the national guard because there were seniors who couldn’t get to their dialysis appointments and needed their medication. And we couldn’t get the roads clean.
Speaker 3 (00:32:16):
Do you recall though, whether you were given kind of any grace period before the criticism started pouring in?
Speaker 1 (00:32:22):
It was 24 hours, you
Speaker 3 (00:32:23):
Know that’s twenty three more more than you would get right now, to be honest, the situation has gotten that much worse.
Speaker 1 (00:32:29):
Well, it it’s, it’s
Speaker 3 (00:32:31):
The city. Yeah. I’m not, not necessarily in city politics. Yeah. I think really, maybe not in city politics, because there’s a different kind of dynamic right now than there was then. Yeah.
Speaker 1 (00:32:41):
And there’s like the there’s look I had you and Jeremy Boren, right? Jeremy bore and Tribune review, you guys were both, you know, you’re a Sagittarius, you’re a go getter. Like you’re getting the news you’re out there. You’re fire sign and I don’t, I’m going to find out his sign too, but you guys were on it and you were aggressive. And if I was a naysayer and didn’t like the administration, and I wanted to give you a tip, you, you would pursue that tip. Right? Yeah. I don’t know if that’s the case now. I don’t know if there’s reporters at the Trib and the Post Gazette and not to mention there’s no more TV reporters in City Hall anymore. That’s not happening. That would pursue tips. So naturally the news against somebody in charge is going to quell, right? It’s going to quell.
Speaker 3 (00:33:27):
And anytime you get kind of a newsman opoly, as you have in many markets, it, it does change the dynamic, the dynamic that existed when you were in city hall was if someone had a piece of hot news and one of, and either Jeremy or I wouldn’t take it, they’d go to the other one. And Jeremy and I both knew that. So if I was going to pass on a piece of news, I knew that it would probably find an outlet somewhere else. But that is that’s different nowadays. You don’t have that the same level of competition. So a deeper, harder story might just not emerge.
Speaker 1 (00:34:01):
So when you look back at your time as, as beat reporter, are there, do you have any regrets? Like, I mean, you were great. I’m not just, I’m just wondering like ha like the benefit of hindsight and looking at how you approach things or, you know, do you have any, any, any perspectives that have changed just sort of, maybe even about Luke or,
Speaker 3 (00:34:25):
Well, I think as, as you continue in in, in, in media, you’re more willing to take a chance on skipping a story in order to get to a better story. You know, reporting, I think is a lot like playing baseball, you know, you go to the plate and you try to find a good pitch that you can hit reasonably far a good story. You know, maybe you may be able to stretch it out to a double who knows. Sometimes you see a pitch that you can hit for a home run or really impactful story that will make a difference for readers and people. But I think as you continue in this job, and it’s probably the same in crisis management you realize that you’ve got you’ve got to wait for your pitch. You know, you’ve got to wait for something that really has news value that really can have impact. And don’t swing at something that, that is, is iffy, or that is I guess, to keep the baseball metaphor going on the edge of the strike zone.
Speaker 1 (00:35:21):
Love it. That’s great. That’s great. You’re full of good metaphors and stories. You’re bringing it out. Joanna. You really are. Oh my gosh. So when you worked for the Post Gazette, I mean, it’s, it’s kinda different cause you weren’t like a business writer where you were pitched to by random PR people time, but like, like how on a given day, like how many pitches were you getting from people wanting you to write something
Speaker 3 (00:35:45):
A good four a day would be typical in city hall on a, on a, on a, you know, maybe a little, a little fewer on a Friday, but, but yeah. You’d often have a number of-
Speaker 1 (00:35:55):
City employees and you’re yeah, you’re getting city employees, you’re getting council people, council staff, you’re, you know,
Speaker 3 (00:36:01):
And once you learn what you’re doing, you’re, you’re, you’re, you’re getting obviously information from the mayor’s office, council, controller, unions, neighborhood groups once you kind of learn to work the periphery and the periphery learns how to work, you, you, you, you, you know, it’s it’s a pretty steady stream of, of story ideas of quote “news”. Yeah.
Speaker 1 (00:36:19):
So why, why did you, why did you like it? Did you like it? I’m assuming you did, you were good at it. You did it for a long time. Yeah, I did
Speaker 3 (00:36:26):
Because it was an adrenaline rush. The time always went fast. You know, city hall is a place that feels like a kind of bad Thanksgiving dinner almost every day, you know, just because it has a family atmosphere, but not a boring family at all. Right.
Speaker 1 (00:36:43):
Oh gosh. Well that’s another good one. Oh, that’s good.
Speaker 3 (00:36:48):
So it was, it was an enjoyable time if I had to look back and find regrets, if I could, I probably regret picking up the phone at six o’clock in the evening, a lot of the time, because it’s, it’s a, it’s a beat that doesn’t stop,
Speaker 1 (00:36:59):
Right. Hey, I always answered your call. Can we get some praise? I need some praise.
Speaker 3 (00:37:04):
You always, you were always trying to get me to get me to the right place. Absolutely.
Speaker 1 (00:37:08):
It was, you know, because if you become the person that is in charge of the information, and if you give the information out, then you can also at least help to shape things in the story, which when a crisis- when we do a crisis communications clients, now, my number one thing to say to clients is you need to be informative, right? And if you try to hold back information and not be aggressive with it, then you’re going to, you’re going to be chasing all of the new stories and not controlling them.
Speaker 3 (00:37:42):
You got something very early on that a lot of people just never get, which is exactly what you said. You know, if you’re not going to participate in the story, then, then someone else is going to shape the narrative. Even if it’s a bad story for you, I, as a reporter always think that the institution would, or the politician would, would gain from participating in the story, just because it, it then they’re participating in the narrative, then their perspective is going to get is going to be reflected, which is always better than a no comment. Or couldn’t be reached,
Speaker 1 (00:38:17):
Never say no comment, rule, number one, you know, you know what Dick, you taught me one of the best things he taught me and Dick, if you’re listening, you’re the best. My old boss, he was a great guy. And how would you describe Dick? He just, he, he was different. He, how would you describe Dick?
Speaker 3 (00:38:38):
Just extremely seasoned and, and kind of wise in the ways of, of, of the present and government. Yeah,
Speaker 1 (00:38:45):
Very, very wise. But he taught me early on. He said, if you don’t know the answer to something, or if you don’t want to give the answer, just say, let me get back to you on that. Right. Just let, let me get back to you on that in a really nice way. And then guess what, maybe you go back to the report or maybe they’ll forget, or maybe you get back to them and you’d give them a nice email saying, here’s why I can’t tell you this it’s a personnel issue, or I don’t have the information right now. I’m working on getting it. But it’s so much easier than to no comment. And it’s kind of like, no comments, just rude. Like no comment. It’s not even a sentence. Like it’s not even, I don’t know. I actually had a, a CEO client from a national organization, like a big client recently tell, report a no comment. And this, in this case, it was fine. It didn’t didn’t work against him, but I just had assumed that this CEO hat, he definitely has had media training. It’s been in a lot of news. But I was like, wow, I haven’t heard that one in awhile,
Speaker 3 (00:39:49):
Correct me if I’m wrong. But maybe media fragmentation makes that a little bit easier for that CEO because he speaking to one outlet, maybe that outlet does, or does not have some legs, but maybe they feel like, okay, I can this outlet, isn’t going to affect public opinion that much. And I can say no comment and get away with it. But I don’t think that’s an, that’s an accurate understanding of the way media works because that no comment can be the top of a tweet that goes viral nowadays. It’s it’s it’s, it’s not, I think a wise position to take, if you have a narrative, if you have something informative and thoughtful to say the audit, you got to say,
Speaker 1 (00:40:28):
Yeah. So let’s, you know, we’re, we’re, we’re, we’re nearing the end of our, of our session here. And I have to talk about this, even though I don’t want to, but you know, the tail end of the mayor’s administration. So he started in crisis, right. Major crisis. And I have to say the hand, the hand that was dealt to the administration, which I worked, you know, we had the G 20 economic summit, which I believe we handled fabulously on all fronts. When you compare it to, you know, other gas. I mean, we I’m telling you, we still get, I still get calls from people that are having summits, other cities, asking questions, you know, picking our brain on how we did things always room for improvement, but we handled it. And then you had, of course this, the Snowmageddon literal shitstorm.
Speaker 1 (00:41:24):
Am I allowed to say shit? Oh my God, it was so bad. And then you had the officers, you know, April 4th, officer tragedy, and you had Washington Boulevard that, that tragedy, okay. Then you had, there was while the tornado in 27 in Mount Washington. And I’m sure I’m missing some, but then we have an FBI investigation that gets thrown on our lap. So all the mayor ended in crisis. His whole administration was in crisis. And of course I was the press secretary, which is why surprise, surprise. I work in crisis communications. It’s like, all I know, but I actually resigned before he left. So I was, I was pregnant with my second son. I mean, do you remember me walking around pregnant? Like all the time. I literally I’m taking, I’m getting harassed by the media. I’m nine and a half months pregnant. There’s, everyone’s fighting in the office. I literally walked in and I was like, I quit. I was like, this is not, this is, this is, this is not good for me. But there’s no greater crisis than in federal investigation because it in, you know, we saw it play out nationally, you know, how it can shake a public to its core because now you’re, you’re, you’re questioning not just someone’s morals and values, but did they in fact break the law? Right. What do you remember about that time reporting?
Speaker 3 (00:42:52):
Well, the genesis of that of course, was concerns about the police chief at the time, Nate Harper. And we, we learned in, I believe it was early 2013, that he was well that’s when it became publicly known that he was the subject of an investigation for corruption. And that’s an irresistible story for the media, obviously, a police chief accused of, and in fact, eventually pleading guilty.
Speaker 1 (00:43:16):
Well, and the fact, I mean, the fact that he was black too, I mean, I hate to say it, but I insider’s perspective on a who knows this, but that investigation did not start with Nate Harper. Okay.
Speaker 3 (00:43:26):
We reported nine months before the investigation that it started with a gentlemen named Art Bedway who who eventually did also plead guilty to unrelated crimes. But right. It didn’t start with the police chief, but it got there and you know, that’s going to be the ultimate feeding frenzy. You’re going to go from having 11 reporters covering you to having 22 reporters covering you in, in a snap of a finger. Yeah. And then to see that investigation then expand into apparently a federal interest in what the mayor was doing in his, in his spare time and the involvement of public resources potentially religiously. And that you, that that’s a very difficult situation for both a responsible reporter and a responsible illustration to be.
Speaker 1 (00:44:16):
I remember that story about the Steelers. What was it? This one of the Steelers trophies. Sure. Yeah. Did you, it, did you report that? Probably. So I’m just going to tell you what happened audience and I don’t care. I’m, I’m too old to be PC, basically Bill Peduto and others on council spent their entire time on council trying to be mayor. Right. And they threw as many grenades as they could at the mayor’s office. And not that I don’t have respect for the mayor now. And, and I think he has a lot of good policies now, but I just know what I went through during that time. And one of those stories that I hear for very good on very good account was that the mayor stole some Super Bowl trophy and that was perpetuated by somebody wanting to be mayor i.e. Bill Peduto and reporters reported on it.
Speaker 1 (00:45:14):
And guess what it wasn’t stolen. It was, it was given to him, it was lent to him. They wanted him to be in his office to show it off. Right. And I don’t remember how, how it all went down, but certainly he was going to give it back and not steal it. It became a huge news story, you know, with the headline, you know, first mayor’s under federal investigation. Now he’s stealing a Steelers trophy and it’s like, it’s, it’s I don’t know when politicians get on this high, moral high ground and, and just try to take people down. I just got it. Things, things come back full circle. And I think, I think that bill Peduto has been seeing that recently with some of the protests he’s had at his house where you, you know, sometimes as a mayor, you can’t always win. Right. And I think he’s being humbled pretty quickly. So I’m just, I wanted to give my 2 cents
Speaker 3 (00:46:10):
Just a quick fact correction. You’re okay. You’re definitely not old.
Speaker 1 (00:46:15):
Oh, thanks. Well I’m starting to feel it… I’m approaching 40,
Speaker 3 (00:46:20):
But you remember that, that period of that investigation that was a grand jury probe. And you had the federal prosecutors, subpoenaing members of the administration to come in and talk to the grand jury. That grand jury room was accessible from a public hallway in which I, and 10 other reporters would sit every time we knew that grand jury was meeting and we can report on somebody walking in and then walking out and then not having a comment. And that’s a difficult spot for you to be in because you don’t know what’s going on in that room nor do we, but we do have to report when an administry, when in a high official is brought in front of a grand jury,
Speaker 1 (00:46:59):
You know what it all comes down to money. When you think about it. I mean, when I look back at that time and I ha I’d have to reread things and just sort of look back at my journals, but there was a man named Freddie Crawford who was one of the mayor’s former bodyguards. And he was nice. He, he took to me, he was one of the nicest guys. However, he was major philanderer. I mean like, like, and I’ll just say it on air. I mean, he, he had a lot of women who he was obligated to give money to, for certain reasons you can imagine why. Okay. And he’s okay. Is lack of handling the mayor. Security was called into question and his, his, his, this is his overtime was brought down severely and then guess what happened right? Then he’s spilling any secret he can write about here’s what the mayor was doing at his house.
Speaker 1 (00:47:57):
Here’s what, and you know, when you look at the people who tried to perpetuate this investigation into the mayor, and you look at the lack of moral high ground that they had, it’s just unbelievable. But nonetheless, you know, so the mayor resigns and there’s no, there’s no indictment on the mayor. You know, they, there was nothing. And when the FBI looks, when they spend time, and I know this because I have a good friend in the FBI, but when they spend time looking into something, they do it because they want to find something like, they’re not going to put resources into something. If they’re not going to go all in. And if you’re going all in, you want to find something, there was nothing that they found that could, that could you know, put the mayor in a position like Nate Harper. So I digress off of my soap box.
Speaker 1 (00:48:54):
One day. He’ll tell his story. Maybe, maybe on this podcast, what do you think Rich? I hope so. Get him on. He was in Pittsburgh magazine not long ago. I did not realize that. Yeah. It was just sort of like a, where are they now? And it was like three graphs of weight. It was, it was, it was very short. So let’s, let’s talk about, let’s end this by. I want to hear your predictions. 2006, we had a pretty full slate of media covering important topics. Good news, bad news crises, beat reporters who understood city hall, who knew how, who knew how government who knew, who knew the city’s budget. Right. Who could say that’s? I remember it was like, when things started to go around, like 2011, there was a lot, a lot more cuts in TV and there were no more TV reporters.
Speaker 1 (00:49:45):
So I had been releasing the budget address. And I sat down with like, I was, I w I spent more time educating reporters on like the city and the city budget than I did, like, you know, putting out news and press releases. I digress. So now here we are, we have newspapers all over the country, just completely decimated no TV, beat reporters anymore. There’s a, there’s a big rule for, for journals, like public source now. And it, can you talk about why and how and tell, tell us like, so public source for those who don’t know you came on the scene 10 years ago, close. Yeah. 10 years ago. And it was funded by the endowments foundations
Speaker 3 (00:50:36):
Foundation funded from, from the beginning. Although now we have a pretty significant base of of individual donors too,
Speaker 1 (00:50:42):
But the impetus in 2010 was to report on, do more longer form reporting on critical issues that impacted the region. Like mostly the environmental issues.
Speaker 3 (00:50:52):
You know, the, the motto is stories for a better Pittsburgh. And I think across a number of different news areas, you know, development, environment, health public safety, that’s what that’s education. That’s what we’re, that’s what we’re looking for.
Speaker 1 (00:51:05):
So why is there more of a place for a public source today than there was 10 years ago
Speaker 3 (00:51:11):
Because of the cuts, especially at the dailies, but also at the at the electronic media TV, especially that have really reduced the ability of those outlets to do the deeper stories. You still have a lot of talent at the Post-Gazette and the Tribune review. And you still have a lot of folks who are extremely capable at turning out an incisive story, a daily story, or two or three sometimes on a given day. But when you’ve got so many crises going on at once, COVID civil rights and election, that’s in doubt you’re, it’s a mad scramble. It doesn’t allow the reporters to spend the time, take a couple of days out off of the durable wheel and, and just go deep on a story like we used to be able to do at the daily. So that’s why there’s, there’s I think a growing space for publications, like public source, where we, we’re not, we’re not obligating ourselves to cover everything that happens at the mayor’s office. You can pick your spots if I write it, if I need to take a week to get a story, right. I take a week to get a story, right?
Speaker 1 (00:52:22):
How do you stay objective knowing that there’s, I mean, there, there are special interests funding, I guess, most news organizations, but Public Source. I mean, I know the Heinz endowments is really big on, you know, the breathe project, which I think they’ve called something else. Now, how, I mean, is there, is there a certain push to cover certain things?
Speaker 3 (00:52:41):
I haven’t seen that and, you know, just full disclosure. My job is, you know, my beat is funded by the Heinz Endowments. So I’m fully aware of that. It’s at the bottom of every one of my stories. But last week there was a hearing in relation to the proposal to, to build a connector from Hazelwood to Oakland, the Mon Oakland mobility project. And I covered that because it was an issue of concern to many residents of the city, especially in, in the, in the sort of the run area of Greenfield. And so I had to kind of put my knowledge that frankly, the Heinz endowments funds my job off to one side, I had to put my knowledge that the Heinz Endowments is also co co owner of the entity that owns Hazelwood Green out of my head and just plain cover what happened. And fortunately, I think I’ve been in this business long enough that I can do that. I can set aside any, any, any concerns other than, other than the news of the day.
Speaker 1 (00:53:40):
Right. And you’re a smart guy, you know, what’s going to trigger what could be triggering to some certain people and you can balance everything out. So, okay. So you’re covering, you know, issues of development. You know, please let’s talk about development. What, what is exciting you right now in the city of Pittsburgh when it comes to development? I mean, you’ve cause you’ve, you’ve been since you’ve covered city politics, development is right in there. So you’ve been doing this for a long time and people don’t realize just how hard you work. I mean, you work hard. I mean, you’re diving in, if I want to know if I want to read something, you know, related to development or where you’re like, I want to know what’s really happening. I’m going to read your story over anybody. Else’s. So what, what, what right now is happening that you think is maybe too under the radar?
Speaker 3 (00:54:30):
Well, it’s kind of that whole rebalancing of the scales thing we were talking about. I mean, the crises, when I started covering URA meetings back in 1996 or 97, wha-w-w revolved around the general collapse of the Pittsburgh economy and the reverberations of the loss of steel, the huge amount of vacant land the, the closure of retailers throughout the city. And now the crises until COVID, we’re very different. You know, it was, it was a, a kind of a a booming market in many sectors an affordable housing crisis gentrification in, in, in many neighborhoods and neighborhoods that were trying to push back against development. So it’s just been interesting that it’s almost a totally flipped narrative. And then of course, everything was thrown into you know the, the, what do you flip the table? And the, and the cards fly in the air or whatever the piece is flying the air in, in March when COVID came, we don’t know what will emerge.
Speaker 1 (00:55:30):
Hmm. I’m hearing there, there’s some New York investors looking at Pittsburgh because, you know, there’s a belief that we’ll, we really haven’t. Can you compare us to a big city? We’re doing great, right? Our, our real estate market we’re doing awesome. And the question is, is that stability going to equate to growth post-COVID?
Speaker 3 (00:55:50):
You want you wonder too, when the New York investors start looking, if they’re looking for, for, you know, cheap, cheap buys,
Speaker 1 (00:55:56):
Cheap pickups, and if we
Speaker 3 (00:55:58):
See an eviction surge, and if we see a foreclosure surge, will we again have a market that bottoms out like it did in 2008 and becomes cheap for outside investors to buy in?
Speaker 1 (00:56:10):
Hmm. Well, on that note, all right. Let’s, let’s end on something. We can’t stop there. Let’s end on something positive. So, all right. This probably isn’t positive, but this is the last question I to ask you. So there’s an emergence in these sort of journals that are, that are funded by outside sources with the goal of filling the news gap that exists now, right? Huge news gap for good reporting for longer form journalism. What, where do you see the media headed in the next five years? What changes do you see? I mean, let’s look at the Post-Gazette. What are you hearing there?
Speaker 3 (00:56:50):
They’re obviously still very deep into, into a labor crisis. They they have an imposed contract, which the union opposes the union has has voted to authorize a strike. As far as I know, they’re waiting on authorization from higher ups in the, in the communication workers of America union before they would conceivably walk. So that that’s been the foundation of of the information flow in this town for a long time. The post Gazette displaying the most reporters than most news and a lot of other outlets depended on the post cause that to frankly, tell them what was going on, right.
Speaker 1 (00:57:26):
That’s, that’s the, that’s the people don’t people are missing that like… If we don’t have a, a foundational, traditional outlet that has history and has institutional knowledge, if we don’t have a stable institutional media outlet in our city, then it’s going to impact all the other outlets.
Speaker 3 (00:57:47):
I would say though, outlets, like I believe Public Source, WESA some of the other online, only outlets too, are trying to expand to fill the niche. I think you’ll see a lot more attention to city government look, look at the city budget that’s going to emerge in the coming weeks. I think, and hope that you’ll see attention from outlets that might not have been there 14 years ago that are gonna try to bring a a deeper perspective to covering the budget and covering how it affects people on the ground, too
Speaker 1 (00:58:17):
Opportunity to innovate for the outlets that have been smaller or more, more niche to sort of expand, expand their audience. It really, I mean, I think where I see the opportunity is, is being smart with digital, right. You know, knowing how to use social media, play it to your advantage. I mean, that’s, everyone’s all social media is ruining news and fake news. Well, the media needs to get better at playing it to their advantage. I mean, they need to be running ads and getting their content out there. They need to be doing that. I, I, I almost think we can, we could start a side, a consultancy just on advising news organizations, how to push their news in front of audiences. It’s not buying big billboards, you know, it’s getting on the mobile phones. It’s true.
Speaker 3 (00:59:02):
Well, I believe 70% of our traffic is mobile right now at Public Source. Yeah,
Speaker 1 (00:59:06):
Yeah. Yeah. I think you guys do a pretty good job, but you know, I, I remember talking with I’m not going to say the person’s name. I don’t want to report a reasonably the Post-Gazette who was saying that they have to, Oh, what is it? They, they they’re, they’re being told they have to, you know, write social copy and share their story. And they they’re being pushed to do social media, but they’ve had no training. They’ve had no training on how to do it. And that’s a four-hour training. You can bring someone to do come on. Anyways, radio terrestrial, radio, KDK, radio. What’s that? I mean, Wendy bell leaving again. I mean, she helped build the younger audience. The, the female audience. Now she’s gone, we’ve got a lot of tumult at KDK radio is Marty going to stay? U
Speaker 3 (00:59:53):
I remember when you had numerous radio outlets, just covering straight news, you really don’t have that now. And so I don’t know that space as well as I used to other than WSA, obviously WSA is very dedicated to, to covering the news. But I think if you’re a discriminating consumer of news, this, this coming age could be a golden age because you’re going to be able to find the deeper news. You’re going to be able to find a variety of perspectives and a variety of takes on hopefully a shared set of facts. But you’re going to have to look a little harder. It’s not going to show up in your driveway.
Speaker 1 (01:00:25):
Yeah. Yeah. It’s going to show up on your newsfeed, right. Hopefully if we can figure out we can do good social media with public source, get you guys. I want to see you every morning. We’ll read. Hey, thank you. Thank you for your time. This has been, I could talk to you for another hour, but I know you probably have to do him to your kids and I have to get home to my kids and and do some work with Draven here. I want to thank the Pittsburgh technology council for having us in their studio. We’re going to be using their studio for this podcast. It’s just nice, you know, we could be doing this via zoom, but in the days of just being so separate from like icon, like actual eye contact, I think if, if we’re going to have a meaningful podcast doing it in person, as much as we can is important. So I appreciate you coming out to do this. And I’ll let you know when it airs and we’ll love to have you back on we’ll look at like, when you do a big, another big story, and it’s really interesting from a crisis standpoint, we’ll have you back on to talk about and expand on it.
Speaker 2 (01:01:24):
Okay. Thanks Rich. [inaudible].