PRWeek: How did you become a medical correspondent?
Max Gomez: I actually had a Ph.D. in neurophysiology and neuroscience and that's why they call me Dr. Max on TV. Even though I loved science, I wasn't sure I wanted to poke around with electrodes for the rest of my life and career. I had done radio in undergraduate at Princeton, and it was actually an old classmate from Princeton who said, 'You like science and you did radio, why don't you try to do science and television?' I ended up talking to a couple of different folks: the editor-in-chief of Popular Science magazine, Ken Gilmore, and the news director [at Channel 5 in New York, which at the time was a metro media station], Mark Monsky. They both agreed that it made more sense to take a scientist and teach him television, than to try to do it the other way around. And that was how I got my first start in it, which was almost 30 years ago.
PRWeek: Over those past 30 years, what have been some of the most interesting issues and news that you've reported on?
Gomez: Way back in the early '80s when I was starting to do this, I covered the very first space shuttle launch. It had been postponed a couple of times, but finally, the planets aligned and I got a chance to go out to Cape Canaveral, the big Kennedy Space Center, and cover the first launch, which was really truly amazing. I covered about four of the first space shuttle missions, including going out to Mission Control in Houston and the Johnson Space Center during Sally Ride's mission, when she was the first American female astronaut, and covering the aftermath of the explosion of the Challenger. Also, I went to Rwanda during the genocide and refugee crisis to cover the humanitarian relief there and that was, again, a life-changing experience.
PRWeek: With the Challenger, were you there reporting on it as it happened or covering the aftermath?
Gomez: I wasn't [there]. It had become almost passé. I don't think any of the big three at the time—ABC, NBC, CBS—were covering it live. It was another space shuttle going up, ho-hum. We'll cover it in the evening news. We'll take some of the video from NASA. [After the explosion,] it was around-the clock, all-hands-on-deck, and I was doing that constantly, covering it and getting experts. I went down to Washington when they had the commission that was looking into it, the hearings there. And as they redesigned the solid rocket boosters out of Huntsville, AL, at the space center there.
PRWeek: What is your interaction like with PR professionals?
Gomez: The truth of the matter is I don't think any of us could really do our jobs without PR professionals. But particularly given the way resources have been cut back in television and newspapers and journalistic enterprises across the board, we really now rely much more on public relations professionals to keep us abreast of some of the things that are going on and making sure that we are aware of developments, research, and so forth.
PRWeek: How can PR professionals pitch you with story ideas or news that is going on?
Gomez: These days, e-mail has really become both a blessing and a curse, but that's really the more reliable way to do it. The other thing that I would ask PR professionals to keep in mind is you have to remember the medium you are pitching to. Television is a visual medium, so we need to put a face on it and we need to put some visuals that are attached to it. You have to keep in mind who you are talking to and what their particular needs are.
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