Rob Braun On Sinclair's Ways Being 'Hard To Swallow,' Feeling Like A 'Puppet' & 'Gomer Pyle'
In his first broadcast interview since leaving WKRC-TV in June, former news anchor Rob Braun told WVXU's Cincinnati Edition Wednesday about how owners Sinclair Broadcast Group changed Channel 12 news; why he decided to leave; and how all of us need to be discriminating news consumers.
The son of long-time Cincinnati TV/radio personality Bob Braun also gave a rare glimpse into his unique childhood with Bob Hope, Jim Nabors, Dick Clark and his father's famous friends.
Braun, 62, left Channel 12 after 35 years due to differences with Sinclair, the nation's largest TV station owner, which bought the station in 2012. Many veteran news staffers have left since Sinclair ordered Braun and co-anchor Cammy Dierking to read a news commentary about media companies pushing "their own personal bias and agenda to control exactly what people think" in March 2018. Braun tried to rewrite Sinclair's script in his own words, but it was rejected.
Among the highlights:
INSIDE A SINCLAIR NEWSROOM: "We had new owners (in 2012), and their business model was different than anything I had been used to. We weren't owned locally anymore. We didn't seemingly have the commitment that we had in the newsroom to doing purely local things; that we were being filtered things from elsewhere in the country and we were required to run them, and I just didn't see that fitting with me…
"The business model that Sinclair brought in was different, and it was hard to swallow. But on paper, from a business standpoint, it makes a lot of sense, because they own a lot of stations, they have a lot of reporters. So they file all these stories to a central location and then you, as a station, pick from that and play a lot of things that come to you from elsewhere. ... Therein lies the rub. Some of the things that you had the ability to choose from were not of the quality you were used to producing in Cincinnati. And so we struggled a lot with that. You'd have a hard time believing that that report was worth running in Cincinnati, both by what effect it had on the viewer and the quality with which it was produced. So these were the things that began to build up and cause my exodus."
THE SINCLAIR NEWS COMMENTARY: "They weren't my words. Some of what was in that was true. And some of the things that we were required to say were not my words, and not the way I would say it, and I didn't believe them.
"I had the luxury for so many years to be the final editor of everything that went on the air ... and I had my personal control over the daily news. My job – what I always focused on – was removing the bias from news stories. And in this case, we were just required to read them as puppets, and it just didn't sit well.
"So there was a long line of aggravation and negotiation, which is not worth going into, but in the end, they made me read what they wrote. They changed one word, that I asked them to change, and they did. And that was the beginning of the end. Because I just wasn't a fit. Because that's how they're going to run their business, and frankly, it's their business. They're allowed to do what they're going to do. It's their ballgame. And you had to get on board or get out, and fortunately I was able to get out on my own terms."
THE AFTERMATH: "The aftermath was that the more senior people who were in my position, and used to (having) control, used the opportunity to retire and move on." (Reporters Deb Dixon, Joe Webb, Larry Davis and Jeff Hirsh retired; Dierking will leave in December.)
"There is a significant void developed when that kind of talent walks out. But everything changes. You know, we're sort of like a sports team in the news businesses, where the careers are shorter than in the average careers for others. There was a quarterback, that was my position. And sometimes it's time for them to move on, just like Marvin Lewis and just like some of the other big ball players. Pete Rose left when people thought he was in his prime. But sometimes it just changes.
"And you don't want to be that old guy who says, 'Now they're doing it all wrong! We are the only ones who know what is going on!' They very well could be doing it exactly right, and we just don't agree, and it doesn't fit with us. I don't know the answer to that, and where it's going to evolve. But having said that, it's just different. It's molting. You know, newsrooms molt over time. No one stays forever. And I think that's what happened."
WE JUST TOLD THE TRUTH: "I'm most proud of the fact that we provided a menu of what was going on in your neighborhood from which you could form you personal opinions about how you felt about politics and what was going on. We just told people the truth, and people would tune into us and trusted us to do that. I think that was what I loved the most…
"And then I really believed that – I'm trying not to make it sound so lofty – what we really did was help people. We were the voice for the voiceless. We tried to do things to benefit those who couldn't help themselves sometimes, a lot of times. And other than that, we just told them what was going on today. But they trusted us, and believed us, and formed their opinions from that, and they trusted us so much they kept coming back, and that's why we were a success."
HIS UNIQUE CHILDHOOD: "We had a wonderful childhood – but it was so different than anybody else. Because we got to do things like play on the set of Gomer Pyle in Los Angeles, because my father was making movies and we'd go out there and hang out. He was friends with Jim Nabors and we would play on the set.
"And you can't tell other people that, because that's so ridiculously outrageous that they'll either think you're bragging or it's a lie. I made the mistake of one year when I came back to school in fall, when the teacher said, 'What did you do for your summer vacation? Write that paper.' And I did. And I told the truth, and I was ridiculed because what I put in there was the truth, because that's what we did. Dad hung out with movie stars, because that's who his friends were. So I never did that again. Every year when I came back to school, I lied. I wrote a story that just was not true. Because I couldn't tell them the truth."
DAD'S CELEBRITY FRIENDS: "Dad was best friends with Bob Hope. I would go to the airport and pick him up. He always stayed at the Netherland. Always have a masseuse. He always would take a walk. Sometimes I'd be his walking buddy. We would play at his house in Palm Springs.
"Dad and Dick Clark were friends. We hung out together. But you just don't don’t go around telling people that. For dad and all the people who were his friends, it was just normal. For everyone else, it was not."
FIND THE TRUE STORY: His advice to young journalist also applies to TV viewers and all news consumers:
"I really think that what's important is what always has been important, and that's to find the true story, and not one that someone is spoon-feeding you. Talk to the principals involved in the story, and not read it on your phone and believe it. Because most of what's on this device (holding his phone) is wrong. And so that's how we survived longer than anybody anticipated that TV news would be around because people kept tuning in to see if what they read on this device in the morning was true.
"And that's what I do now when I want to learn about a story. Instead of listening to a talking head – because on the national scene I can't think of one I totally trust – I go and look for the principals involved in the story. Like when there's a shooting, I want to hear what the sheriff has to say, just like I did as a reporter. I want to hear what the parents of the children involved have to say. And I want to form my opinions based on what I'm hearing the principals involved in the story have to say. And I suggest that's what needs to continue to happen. And I fear that it may be it more about being on television, and being the star of the event, and less about the story, which should be the star of the event."
NO REGRETS: "I had a historic run. I can't complain about that at all. And the support from the public has been enormous for years and years. It just seemed to be the right time to walk away. And I'm fortunate that I can do that, that I could see that, and I didn't get blown up, I didn't get driven out. There's no negative to it, it was just time to go. It was time to turn the page."