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Bruce Hooley Knew Journalism Was the Career for Him

A journalism professor told Hooley a good broadcaster needed to know how to write first. That’s when he fell into print. 

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Bruce Hooley joined Salem Media of Ohio in October 2020, following a three-decade career in newspaper, radio and television. At the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Hooley covered Ohio State University for 18 years, while also serving as the PD’s national college football and basketball reporter. 

When he was 10 years old, like most boys, Hooley thought he wanted to be a professional athlete. At the point he realized that wasn’t going to happen he thought of being a play-by-play announcer, thought he might cover sports in some way.

“In high school, I played golf, basketball,” Hooley said. “I was a cross-country runner and our team was good, but I didn’t do anything beyond that.”

He didn’t go the play-by-play route, but he did pursue writing and journalism. 

“Looking back I’m sure I’d cringe at the first things I wrote,” Hooley said. “But I wanted to get into journalism before I earned my college degree. A small town offered me the opportunity to write sports on the weekend. As time went on I hope I got better.”

A journalism professor told Hooley a good broadcaster needed to know how to write first. That’s when he fell into print. 

“After a year at the first small paper, I was offered a job at a second small newspaper,” Hooley explained. “Three years later I was covering the Miami Dolphins for the now defunct Miami News from 1986-1987.” 

Hooley had some familiarity with Florida as he’d spent time visiting friends, he knew about the heat. He interviewed for the Miami News job while on vacation. 

“I knew what it’d be like down there in the late 80s, the whole Miami Vice vibe working,” Hooley said. 

Hooley offers some advice to a young reporter thinking about covering news or sports. 

“If you’re afraid of being around people acting mean, you’re never going to be any good as a reporter,” he said. 

“My first experience with a difficult interview was with Hall of Fame Miami Dolphins coach Don Shula,” Hooley explained. “He was a man who didn’t suffer fools. Coaches like Jimmy Johnson, Bobby Knight, like all the tough coaches, you had to hold your own with them. Shula was a tough guy, but a fair guy. You can’t be afraid to ask a tough question as long as it’s a fair question.” 

Hooley said it’s critical to be committed to your line of questioning. When Hooley was in Miami, the Dolphins had Dan Marino. They’d been to the Super Bowl. The Killer Bees were losing their effectiveness, the defense was injury-riddled. You can understand if Shula was a bit testy in those days. 

“Shula didn’t like to answer questions about obvious and negative things,” Hooley said. “He would give you a stern look when you asked a tough questions. He wanted to challenge you, try to deflect and get away from your question. I’d stay with my line of questioning and eventually he would answer.”

Hooley was grateful he had experienced reporters around him to draw from. Guys like Andy Cohen of the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel. Experienced reporters in Miami and West Palm Beach knew the game and asked solid questions. Hooley said he learned from those reporters.

“There are always good people in every medium, just as there are lazy reporters in every medium,” Hooley said. “I’ve always strived to be one of the good ones, but that doesn’t make you very popular at times. I never look to draw blood in a press conference. I always thought I was there to ask the questions the fans would ask if they could. You have to make coverage decisions, decide what you’re going to ask, even if it’s unpleasant.” 

When a team would lose to an unranked team regularly, Hooley said that’s a fair opportunity to ask a coach about that. It’s fair and responsible.

“I remember a coach on the night he got fired who shook my hand. He told me while we always didn’t get along, he respected what I had to do.”

It’s one thing to cover a team for a season through good times and bad, and it’s quite another to come in and take the lazy shots.

“I was always suspicious of some of the TV guys who would come to just one press conference a year,” Hooley said. “They’d mic themselves up when a team wasn’t doing well so they could record their question, and use those often angry answers over and over. You wouldn’t see that reporter for the rest of the year. That’s not who I am, not who I’ve ever been. I’ll ask questions other reporters don’t ask.”

On The Bruce Hooley Show – Columbus – 98.9 FM The Answer, Hooley says it’s a news and talk format. He enjoys the forum after spending so much time in sports. “There were times working in sports where I wondered how much my work meant in the grand scheme of things. I embrace the opportunity to do news and talk. I think I can use my analytical skills that may awaken some people to the dangers that are out there.”

Hooley has covered 19 NCAA Final Fours, the 1988 Winter Olympics, the World Series, the Super Bowl and numerous professional golf majors. He’s worked with former NFL player Chris Spielman in several formats, including an iHeart sports startup that folded in 2019. 

He’s concerned about the direction of the country. “In our current direction, I see the vilification of what America is,” Hooley said. “While we’ve never been a perfect country, we’re an awesome country that puts their dirty laundry out there. I want my daughters to live in a country where they can state their opinion and not be canceled for it. I want them to have the childhood I had. I’m seeing too many warning signs that won’t be the case.”

Hooley explained when he was growing up we didn’t have politicians lying so blatantly. 

“I have a problem with presidents lying,” he said. “Trump said he’s going to build a wall and Mexico was going to pay for it. He didn’t build it and Mexico is not paying for what they have built. I don’t like it when Joe Biden says the pandemic is over so he’ll cancel student debt. I get tired of the cavalier nature of lying from our leaders. These are people we need to look up to in times of trouble. We need to be able to trust them.”

Hooley doesn’t think we should say our ability to trust is gone permanently. 

“We get to vote for change and we can insist on honesty and trust,” he said. “Let’s do that.  I am sick and tired of hearing how our Democracy is under threat. In the first place, we’re a constitutional federal republic. So right off the bat people don’t know what they’re talking about.” 

Hooley explained we get the leaders we give ourselves. Like the old saying about insanity; doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.

“We’ve got a generation of new leaders I have hope for. I believe in the American Dream. I’ve always wondered what I had in me. How far could I be tested? Just like the soldiers on the boats coming ashore at Normandy. Could I have withstood that fear and horror? The truth is not always pleasant. I will have vehement arguments when necessary.”

Hooley said our Founding Fathers were very wise. There’s a reason they made freedom of speech our First Amendment. 

“I’m interested in conversation with the most ardent opponent of my position,” he said. “I’m not going to defend anyone who is interested in shutting down speech. Words are not violence. Violence is violence.”

Hooley has questions about a lot of things. 

“We’re dealing with a lot of accusations about fake elections.”

He’s not going to swallow the concept of hook-line-sinker, but he does question some elements of the argument. “Things like the supposed flooding that slowed ballot counting in Atlanta. I’m looking for the truth, not just answers.”

The Pillow Man hasn’t escaped Hooley’s critical eye. If you’re wearing a Christian symbol around your neck, try to honor that. 

“While I understand Mike Lindell’s passion for what he believes in, he’s compromised my ability to trust him with all his claims of evidence of election fraud by producing none. My sense of Mike Lindell is he seems like a nice guy. Does a lot to help others, people with addictions. Unless he shows me proof, I have to discount what he says on an election fraud issue.”

Hooley said some of our long-trusted news sources have gone Topsy-Turvey. 

He said after John Fetterman recited talking points during his recent debate, Hooley said Time Magazine did nothing but repeat every single talking point. 

“This isn’t the way things used to be,” Hooley explained. “Sometimes I’m embarrassed to be a journalist. I’m embarrassed by what I see on MSNBC. I’m embarrassed by the programming on Fox after 8 pm.” 

Hooley cited writer Bernard Goldberg who wrote, “We’ve gotten to a point in our country where we’re ‘rooting for laundry.’” 

I did some research on Goldberg’s quote and found it very germane to the fabric of our national conversation. Goldberg speaks to the zero-sum game of so many people in our country. For those reasons, I’ve culled a few of Goldberg’s thoughts.

“It’s not beliefs we’re hanging on to,” Goldberg writes.“It’s identity that we cling to; what matters most now is what team we play for.No one is watching the other side to learn something they hadn’t already thought of. Sports fans cheer for the star player who wears their team’s uniform until he decides to put on another uniform and play for a rival that’s offering him more money. Then they boo the very same guy. As Jerry Seinfeld said, fans are just cheering for clothes; they’re rooting for laundry.”

“I’ll get in trouble for saying this on my own show,” Hooley said, “but I think Republicans would be nuts to nominate Trump again for president. You have Desantis and a number of other people to pick from. There are a lot of people sitting on a big bench. I can name eight more right now. We need someone who awakens people and enlivens them.” 

Hooley said he’s astounded he’s never heard a Republican talk about the demonization of MAGA. Hooley said it’s about making America great again, not making Trump great. 

“Some are of the opinion America was never great. I don’t agree with that. It’s ridiculous that people would oppose the idea of America being great. Our only hope in the world is for America being great. I spoke at one of Trump’s rallies. It was a great experience, but I didn’t get up and extol his virtues.”

In 2012, Hooley co-wrote That’s Why I’m Here: The Chris and Stefanie Spielman Story with a friend and former NFL player Chris Spielman. 

“Chris and I worked together in radio as a team on 97.1 The Fan, before it was 1460 AM in Columbus,” Hooley said. “I went there from The Plain Dealer in the summer of 2005. I hosted afternoons for a while. We were colleagues who became close friends. When his wife Stefanie had her final relapse with cancer we became even closer. I asked him what I could do. At various times we’d talked about writing a book. He told me that’s what I could do to help, and wanted to start the very next day.”

Hooley said during the writing process they’d meet for an hour before their show and talk about what they wanted to write about. 

“I think it was very cathartic for him and it ultimately kept a very accurate record,” Hooley said. Spielman’s two daughters were too young to understand the breadth of everything their parents were going on at the time. Now they’re both out of high school.

“I don’t know whether they’ve read it,” Hooley said. “But at least there is an accurate record of all they went through. If they read it I hope they took some solace from the book. We chronicled the way they waged their battle. It was impactful. They were such courageous examples.” 

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A Message to Radio Leaders About Burnout

While you’re focused on the bottom line, pay closer attention to the people on the assembly line, the talented men and women trying to crank out an excellent product.

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Life is show prep. That’s what my Dallas radio co-host Amy Chodroff always said and she was right.

If you do a news or talk radio show you get it, it’s non-stop. You spend every day of your life reading news and considering opinions. You scrutinize reported facts, look for bias, gauge your reaction, and think about how you’ll present it on the air.

This is the only way you can do your job. Your listeners expect you to know more than they do, to inform them, and to offer insights into every situation and with every interview you present on the air.

Life is, in fact, show prep. But if you’re a news or talk radio show host you might have trouble explaining that to some people who don’t understand this because they’ve never tried doing it.

Your bosses, for example.

When I retired recently, this conflict was the tipping point. I had a recent health scare that thankfully turned out to be nothing more than a wake-up call. As long as I could remember, I was getting up at 2:30 AM every day to do a radio news show that aired live from 5 until 9 AM.

By 9:05 AM, I was mentally exhausted, but the boss felt I should put in a full eight hours on the clock, joining the newsroom staff from 9:00 until noon or 1:00 P.M.

More than the extra work itself, dodging that insistence wore me out and took me to retirement. I tried but couldn’t effectively explain that I worked as much at home and wherever else I happened to be as I did when I was in the building.

Life is show prep. And I suppose that can sound like a justification for going home after a four or five-hour shift, but if you’ve never done it, you can’t know the truth.

I got breaking news alerts on my phone while at home with family and in restaurants with friends. I was in daily contact with my co-host and our producer. Text meetings and phone calls between us during weekends were frequent. Show prep doesn’t allow time off between air shifts, even when you’re on vacation.

You may be a sales executive, administration manager, or an engineer thinking, ‘Yeah, I think about work away from the office, too.’ But what you don’t do when you’re in the office is perform to the immediate judgment of thousands of people live, non-stop, four hours per day, five days a week. It’s a never-ending multi-tasking job that requires keeping one eye on the clock, part of your brain focused on the real-time on-air content, while other parts are planning what you must do next and 20 minutes from now and next hour as you’re making notes for future reference.

While all of this is going on, you’re also signaling your co-host, producer, and if you have one your board operator. If you’ve never done all of that there’s no way I can explain that being on the air requires more concentration and energy in four hours than your eight-hour work day does. It just does.

Show prep never ends. Never.

You will read far more versions of various news stories than anyone you know except your on-air partner if you have one. Those stories are rabbit holes and you’ll dive into them, looking for red flags and nuance, double and triple checking your sources because you don’t want to make a fool of yourself. Now more than ever you can trip an information landmine with any single step. Your credibility and career depend on preparing your show carefully but quickly, 24/7.

Now we have this idea that news anchors and talk hosts should have three or four more hours of additional responsibilities after their show ends, as tomorrow’s show prep continues. It’s ignorant and debilitating. Yet, here we are, in the new era of corporate bean counters and the elimination of trained human resources in radio newsrooms filled with empty workstations and only one or two people on duty to answer the phone, gather information, write or rewrite it, record various sources including their own on-air reports while setting up and performing interviews. These under-appreciated magicians often have hourly newscasts to prepare and perform as well.

Radio news staffs are seriously shorthanded. How can a manager improve efficiency? Why, call on people who have just done a four-hour show preceded by an hour or two of in-studio prep and all that work they did at home.

An RTDNA study published a year ago revealed that nearly 70% of news directors reported their staff were overworked and suffering from job burnout.

Ya think?

There is an implied hint of good news in the RTDNA’s most recent look into the problem: Radio news staffing changes are actually increasing slightly. Hey, great! But if you look at the numbers below the headline you’ll be shocked. How do radio news and talk survive?

“The latest RTDNA/Newhouse School at Syracuse University Survey shows the typical (median) radio news operation has a full-time news staff of two for the second year in a row.”

TWO FULL-TIME NEWS STAFFERS!

(Disclaimer: Your numbers may vary, depending on market size and how many news and talk hosts are folded into the count when they get off the air.)

There was a time when providing factual news and the exchange of ideas was a lofty yet achievable ideal. It was so exciting we couldn’t wait to get to work.

In those days, air talent was paid their actual value related to radio station earnings. My salary as a morning news host in Sacramento was five times more than I made in Dallas, 40 years later. The pressure to do more eventually burned me out. Now I know people half my age making less than half of my salary when I started in Dallas 12 years ago. Major market news and talk talents are cashing paychecks equal to or less than what their grandpas made as medium market top-40 deejays.

I don’t have any solutions to the money problems that face every news/programming/sales and general manager each day. I will suggest a thought, though:

While you’re focused on the bottom line, pay closer attention to the people on the assembly line, the talented men and women trying to crank out an excellent product. What would your profit and loss statement look like without them?

Sit down with your program and news directors, news writers and reporters, producers, and show hosts. Show them a little love. Ask them what they need and how you might be able to help. They’ll want you to pay them more and hire more people, you know that going in so think about it now. Is that possible?

You’re smart, which is why you’re the manager. I’ll bet you can figure out a way to do it.

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How News/Talk Radio Hosts Can Use Caitlin Clark to Reach Broader Audiences

This is what’s going on in their lives, and you have an opportunity to connect with them.

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(Photo: John Mac C.C. 2.0)

Caitlin Clark and Donald Trump have something in common, and I have no idea if it’s their politics. But Caitlin Clark in the 2024 news cycle is Donald Trump circa 2015-16 to the news/talk radio topic selection.

Just like no one had seen anything like Donald Trump in modern American politics, no one has seen anything close to Caitlin Clark in the WNBA.

The WNBA has existed for nearly three decades but has smashed all ratings and attendance records, at least for games involving Clark. Caitlin Clark is bigger than the WNBA, just like Donald Trump when he first burst onto the scene, at least, was bigger than the bubble that was American politics.

The other thing both have in common is that they transcend their respective supposed lanes. Donald Trump was bigger than politics when he entered the political arena in 2015. Caitlin Clark is bigger than women’s basketball. Politics was not the story in 2015; Trump was the story. Now, the WNBA is not the story; Caitlin Clark is the story.

So, if you’re a news/talk radio host and you’re not taking advantage of the Caitlin Clark news cycle, what are you waiting for? As the battle for younger listeners continues in the news/talk space, this is your opportunity; don’t miss it.

Your target, in-demo audience — parents in their late 30s, 40s, and early 50s (think 35-54) — who have daughters between the ages of 8 and 18, are probably talking about Caitlin Clark in their homes, around the dinner table, and when driving them around town to practices and friend’s houses. This is what’s going on in their lives, and you have an opportunity to connect with them.

This doesn’t mean breaking down Caitlin Clark’s box score. I admittedly have no idea how many points she’s averaging per game. But it’s about diving into the cultural issues surrounding Clark in recent weeks. From cheap shots on the court to Olympic Team slights, these topics are opportunities to weave a broad, cultural news topic into a radio format and show that extends beyond the hard news/politics/nuts and bolts news stories.

Undoubtedly, those are important, but they remain a lane that isn’t necessarily growing, especially in the coveted 25-54 demographic.

And with a news/talk host’s ability to understand the current cultural and political climate likely better than your competitor on the sports talk station, you have a topic and angle unique to your town and potential listening audience.

In the last two weeks, the most calls we’ve received on a single segment came during a topic on Caitlin Clark being shoved by Chennedy Carter, which went viral two weekends ago. Men, women, young, and old all wanted to chime in and had an opinion. And it came on a Monday morning when most of us in the chair can attest that the phones are usually slower than later in the week. You had sports mixed with culture and race bubbling into one topic that can be seized compellingly by a news/talk radio show.

Caller reaction cannot be the main driver of what makes good radio or a compelling topic, but it can be anecdotal, in that moment, for what the audience is willing to and wants to react to.

So, while I can’t tell you who Caitlin Clark’s team, the Indiana Fever, will play tonight, tomorrow, or the night after (or even if they play), I can tell you I’ll be following for any viral moments that might play in the news/talk space.

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The Case for News Media Outlets to Utilize Paywalls

Why are we giving our work for free?

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As local newspapers across the country shutter Americans are craving local news, but not in the traditional sense. A new Pew Institute Research study found a large majority of Americans believe local news outlets are at least somewhat important to the well-being of their community.

Yet, only 15% say they have paid or given money to any local news source in the last year.

There is no such thing as a free lunch. Except, in this case, there is no such thing as free news. People are in need of, and crave, local journalists’ hard work but are unwilling to pay for it. This is unsustainable.

Pew found 32% of those polled are looking to TV for local news, which is still the most common source of news. However, this is down from 41% in 2018. Just 9% look to print and another 9% look to radio for news. It’s no surprise to anyone Americans are looking to get local news online from websites (26%) and social media (23%).

While the transition from print to digital is relatively easy from a strictly content standpoint, having people pay is borderline impossible. The most common explanation is that people don’t pay because they can find plenty of free local news. The answer for our industry to survive is simple: paywalls.

Even with a Borrell Associates prediction of local broadcast TV advertisements growing 5.9% it won’t last. The agency noted the 2024 bump will fall after the election. We can not rely on every election cycle to survive.

In 20 years, TV won’t be able to subsidize digital (in some markets they are already unable to do this). In fact, this business model needs to be flipped around before local TV and radio stations shutter like newspapers have.

As I said in a previous article, it is unethical to have social media companies pay news outlets for content (like the legislation in Australia and Canada pushed through). But the money has to come from somewhere.

Why are we giving our work for free? A dollar per click on digital advertising is only sustainable (and offers a livable wage) when it comes to clickbait. However, the mind-numbing click farm is not why most of us do what we do.

Journalists are supposed to provide information, stand up for the truth, and have some sort of moral integrity. This does not mean we and our colleagues need to live on barely minimum wage. (Full disclosure, moral integrity does not mean “activist journalism,” which is bad and not actually journalism. I mean have the integrity to keep yourself and your view out of the story.)

Suits, this is where I turn to you. In 2022, local TV over-the-air advertising revenue totaled $20.5 billion according to a Pew study. The same study said profits from digital advertising revenue reached $2 billion. So where does this money go? It’s certainly not in the newsroom.

On average starting salaries are $37,600, according to The Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA). They calculate since 2020 those who work in news on average lost 8.3% in real wages. However, the amount of airtime for local outlets increased by 18 minutes per weekday. Meaning more work, less pay, and even less time to enjoy that breaking news pizza.

People are now making more at fast food restaurants in California than your newsroom associate with a bachelor’s degree. This is not normal. Invest in your people.

Journalists have so much more to offer the community yet they are not being paid. The companies they work for are not making as much as they could because everyone is afraid to put up a paywall.

If all local news outlets unanimously ask their readers to pay (like we used to before the dot com boom when everyone had to buy a paper) people would pay. They need us to be properly informed. While we are fully aware of our industry’s credit crunch, those outside of our world are blissfully unaware of our precarious situation.

Most importantly, local news outlets are facing a news dotcom problem, ‘Dark Money.’ Axios reported this week the number of biased outlets, that say they are impartial, is more than the number of actual local daily newspapers in the U.S.

Not only are we not being paid for the value of our work, we are competing with people who have bad intentions, unlimited money, and unlimited bandwidth. True news might be dead at the national level but we can not let this happen to local news.

There is no such thing as free news. So why does the industry as a whole treat our valuable content in this way?

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