Sunday, April 19, 2009

For a family friend

At various stages of my life, I have been told that it is always important to be nice to people.

There are a lot of reasons to do that, but a common reason I always hear is that one act of kindness may be the very gesture that gets another person through the day.

Of course, we usually do not realize when we do that because it is impossible to look inside another person's heart. However, there are times when a life dedicated to niceness can be measured.

I thought of that recently when WSMV's Dan Miller died of an apparent heart attack. For people my age, Miller had been a presence in our lives since we were in kindergarten. Except for a few years when he worked in California, he was always waiting for us in our living room each weeknight.

Like many of you, I watched and read the dozens of tributes dedicated to him. However, there was one in particular that stands out in my mind.

Retired WTVF anchorman Chris Clark said that Miller was a genuinely nice man and that came through to viewers.

Keep in mind that Clark and Miller were rivals for decades when it came to local news. Broadcast journalism (and all journalism for that matter) is a fiercely competitive business and can be quite cut throat. If Miller's rivals can say that about him, what should it tell us as well? Maybe nice guys can finish first.

As I discussed his death with a friend, he related that as a boy the world's bad news was a little easier to swallow because it was reported by Miller. He could not explain why. It just had that impact on him.

I wish that I could say that the warmth and niceness of Miller was a common trait in broadcast journalism, but I cannot. It seems that a lot of the current leaders in the field depend too much on smarminess and confrontation.

While I agree that confrontation is sometimes a necessary weapon when reporting the truth, much of it these days is misused as blatant grandstanding. It is used as a cheap trick to gain our attention for a few seconds. It is all a bunch of noise.

Unfortunately, these people do not understand what it takes to have a meaningful impact on people's lives. Most people want hardworking broadcasters and journalists that care enough about them to tell the truth.

I think that was a key in Miller's success. Because of this, he was a person that we welcomed into our living rooms in the evening and into our bedrooms when we watched the late news. He was a member of our extended family.

The grandstanders will never enjoy this intimacy, and when they die, I doubt it will touch their viewers the way Miller's death impacted his. I know that sounds harsh, but just because something is harsh, it does not mean it is untrue.

How would people react if Bill O'Reilly suddenly died? Or Keith Olbermann?

They would be missed, but viewers would move on to the next big thing. Their lasting impact would be minimal.

I never met Dan Miller and that is too bad. It is not every day that a 35-year relationship ends even if it was an indirect one.

I would not want to be the one who replaces Miller at WSMV. Whoever it is, I hope he took plenty of notes about the man who just left.

The shoes are enormous.

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