My new assignment is unmistakably old school

Buffalo

At around 4:30 p.m. Monday, on my first day of work at WIVB Channel 4, Jacquie Walker and Don Postles walked by my new desk in the middle of the newsroom to say hello. 

I have to admit, I was a little starstruck. I’ve met and interviewed a lot of famous people in my time, but it was a kick getting a friendly welcome from two legends of local Buffalo TV journalism, old pros who have brought the news to the viewers of Western New York for decades. 

The late Larry Felser, a dear News colleague and sports writing giant, once told me that all sports are local. I’ve never forgotten that the best stories — in sports or news or weather — were the ones that affected people around you, that had an intimate connection to the community.

During a 29-year career at the local daily, I became most renowned as a guy who took the two major local pro teams to task in his columns, an objective voice who gave a hard, critical look at the Bills and Sabres during an era of frequent franchise failure and dysfunction.

But I always felt it was the writing and interviewing and reporting that defined me, and it was the local stuff that fulfilled me best. My former colleague Bucky Gleason, a font of insight into the Buffalo culture, gave me the ultimate compliment about 10 years into my time here, when he said people thought I had grown up here.

Like so many journalists, I came of age as a writer of local sports, during my seven years with the Binghamton papers, where I covered sports and news. Getting to cover police, government, education, politics and mental health was an immeasurable help to me as a reporter and writer.

When I came to Buffalo to join Felser as a sports columnist in 1989, I still saw myself as a local writer, someone who relished covering a Canisius-St. Joes’s high school football showdown or a Canisius-Niagara college basketball game as much as a Super Bowl or Stanley Cup game.

Most of my fondest memories are local. I was there when Canisius made the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 1996 in 39 years under John Beilein. I can still see then-Mayor Tony Masiello beaming during the celebration, as a senior named Mickey Frazier sat on top of the rim with the net around his neck.

I was there when Niagara broke through in 2005, when both the UB men’s and women’s hoop teams won their league and made the NCAA for the first time on one unforgettable Saturday in Cleveland in 2016. 

Yes, I was there when Norwood missed the kick and when Chris Drury and Daniel Briere played their final game for the Sabres. But it was even more thrilling to be the one Buffalo reporter on hand when Jenn Suhr won the pole vault gold at the London Olympics, and when Emily Regan became the first Western New Yorker rower to win an Olympic gold medal for the U.S. women’s eight in Rio — a team coached by Buffalo native Tom Terhaar.

My favorite series was on the best local high school sports years of the second half of the 20th century. The connections were fascinating. Of course, golfers remember the year I tried to break 100 by the end of the summer — and failed. I hear about that series every time I play.

It’s exciting that I won’t write solely about sports for the website. In my formative years, I aspired to be a local news columnist. During the 1980s, I wrote news in Binghamton and Syracuse, where I interviewed cops and con men, psychiatrists and school board members, teachers and truck drivers. I even spent the night with a repo man.

It wasn’t going to Bills games that I missed most when I left the News; it was talking with real people, people in the community, knowing that a story I wrote might have a connection to someone I ran into on the street or in a bar.  

More than anything, I missed the rhythm of a newsroom, being around creative people who believed in the daily journalism. I’m inspired to know that Channel 4 values the kind of journalism I love, and that Lisa Polster thought enough of my work to make me part of the team.

I’ll be  a “digital data reporter,” which sounds a little exotic for a tech-challenged old guy. But it’s interviewing and reporting and writing, no matter what they call it. I feel like I’m back to my roots, writing for a community that has always appreciated good local journalism.

I feel like a kid again, with a world of possibility in front of me. After more than 40 years in the profession, how can you beat that?

Follow Jerry Sullivan on Twitter at @ByJerrySullivan or email him at jerry.sullivan@wivb.com.

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