That’s the First, Last and Always Commandment of news.
If you’re not there, you can’t see it, smell it, feel it. There are other ways to do journalism, many valuable and even distinguished. If a tree falls in the forest, and you’re not there, you can still study the carcass, figure out why it fell, who or what might have felled it and assess the value or loss in its falling.
You can still help people understand that tree-fall, even from a distance. I mean, that’s what HERE & THERE is all about. But, I, we, and it depend on someone who has been there.
For more than 70 years New Yorkers could depend on the WNBC-TV, News 4 New York Reporter Gabe Pressman to be there, wherever news was being made: Manhattan, Brooklyn, The Bronx and Queens, the Islands Staten and Long, and City and Hart’s, where NYC’s Potter’s Field is laid.
Gabe also went, repeatedly, to Jersey and Connecticut and Washington and Israel as a combination foreign correspondent and icon, because, as much as Gabe covered New York news, he was New York news.
No one can be everywhere at once, so you can’t say there was no news, if Gabe wasn’t there, but the obverse was true. If Gabe was there, it was news that brought him. He didn’t waste his, or his viewers’ time.
And once there, Gabe didn’t waste time. His questions, frequently the first, because he got them out of his mouth first, tended to be simple and direct, and obviously in need of an answer.
Gabe knew his stories, every damn one of them, so when he got an answer that was wrong, he knew it, and let both his answerer and his audience know. “What do you mean…it’s working? …that’s how it is? …mistakes were made? What mistakes? And who made ‘em?” These were typical Pressman follow-ups. Bathwater won’t do, let’s look at that baby you’re hiding.
Gabe was dogged.
One of the things that made Gabe, a small, somewhat square-faced, dark-haired, dark-suited, un-styled, forever middle-aged man, a TV star is that he looked dogged.
Walking fast, mic held in front of him, pointed at his almost always taller, usually better-dressed prey, Gabe embodied unrelenting pursuit. Answer me or indict yourself, disgrace yourself, by fleeing.
Great theater; great TV, but greatly admired by New Yorkers because night after night (sometimes twice, at 6 and 11), week after week, year after year, the dogged pursuit continued. Not (and this is important) for the greater glory of Gabe, but for truth.
Actually, it can literally be said of Gabe Pressman that he worked, doggedly, untiringly, from 1947 (at the Newark News) to 2017 (at WNBC-TV) to uphold and honor truth, justice and that peculiarly “Greatest Generation” sense of The American Way.
For 70 years he showed what real news is, and how real news is done: honestly, directly, intelligently, with care and respect for the audience.
Gabe Pressman died last month at the age of 93. My good friend Bob Wiener, who produced for Gabe at New 4 New York for 5 years and remained his good friend for 25 more, paints a glorious portrait of the man, driving down (and sometimes across) the West Side Highway with one hand on the steering wheel and the other somehow scratching notes on a pad with a ballpoint pen; in dogged pursuit of the news.
Dogged was real.