For those of you not in Boston today – legendary anchor Chet Curtis passed away. I had the honor to share the NECN newsroom with Chet for 7 years, and the double honor of having a desk across from him “in the pod” for 3. My personal social media streams have been buzzing today with remembrances – all happy, all praising Chet for his kindness, his decency, and his journalism. I posted my share.
Being able to call Chet Curtis my friend is an honor and a privilege.
I also think it may have been when my Dad thought I’d actually done something with my life. (Not really, but he was impressed that I got to type words that would then be shared by that smooth baritone.)
I’m struck by the fact that people are telling many fewer stories about “events Chet anchored”, beyond acknowledging they existed by the dozens, and more about “Chet, the man.” I think that’s because the list of people who can deliver the news well is long, though he would be at the top of it. But the list of people, especially in the news business, who for their entire career left a long string of people feeling better for having known him and worked with him, is far shorter.
There is nothing like a TV newsroom for testing interpersonal relationships. It’s a place where you have no choice but to work in close contact, where little can be done by one person but a small group can accomplish wondrous things. You also tend to spend extended periods of time with small groups, and it’s an environment that brings together 60-year-old anchors with 22-year-old producers talking to 25-year-old reporters with journalism degrees who are paired with 45-year-old photographers who have seen and done it all before. They’re connected by an earpiece with a 40-something director coordinating a staff of various ages and experience through headsets, and all of them have to execute their jobs perfectly so that no one at home has any idea just how close the whole broadcast came to coming off the rails – and ideally, as this dance happens the viewer at home actually takes away something of value about their community, their country and the world. Two minutes later, half the cast changes but the goal is the same.
And the anchor gets to cover up for a lot of things going on behind the scenes. It’s a difficult act, but it’s a more difficult act to actually be someone that all of those people – from the production intern to the producer to the director to the reporter to the co-anchor to the viewer – actually likes, respects, and looks up to. Chet did it. His life wasn’t perfect – but he packed a lot into it and did it without forgetting that people matter.
There were people who knew Chet longer, who worked more closely with him – and there are those who may have just had a moment with him. That’s true of all of us. We are closer to some people than others. We have deep relationships and glancing acquaintances.
But you don’t have to be in a newsroom to be more Chet-like to all of them. Ask. Listen. Care. Say thank you. Be decent. Shake hands. Smile. I look at that list, and realize I have some work to do. It’s not the stuff they teach you in journalism school.
It’s more important than that.