Walter Jacobson is a dean of Chicago broadcast journalism, having spent more than 30 years at three different stations. During the 1980s, he was co-anchor of the then-number-one rated local CBS-owned station, WBBM, where one of his most famous stories involved going undercover as a homeless person. Today, he co-anchors the Fox News at 9 at local Fox affiliate WFLD. He continues his nightly Perspective - commentaries that have become a staple of the news scene in the Windy City.
PRWeek: What would you say have been the most significant changes in Chicago TV journalism that you've seen?
Walter Jacobson: The most dramatic change is less of an interest regarding in-depth, analytical, thoughtful reporting and still increasing interest in the top of a story, the headline, the jazz and pizzazz, and increasing interest in what is perceived by management and the advertising and PR worlds as what sells.
PRWeek: How do you work with PR people?
Jacobson: There's probably not a PR agency that I haven't dealt with in Chicago in one way or another. They know that I know the games we are both playing. I get good information from PR people because I understand it is one side of a story. I also understand that we have to get both sides of a story before we can report it.
PRWeek: With competition for viewers intensifying, what do you see as the future for local evening news?
Jacobson: We have to compete against television that is more entertainment. Management is concerned about appealing to as wide an audience as possible. I recoil at stories that I have to read about another shooting or another fire. For someone who has spent a lifetime trying to live up to my standards, it is frustrating. I don't see any indications that we are going to go back to solid, responsible journalism. The public wants to be talked down to.
PRWeek: What advice would you give PR people?
Jacobson: Don't try to pretend to a reporter that you're giving him an objective view of the subject you are discussing. Number two, let it be known right off the top that you both understand what the PR person's objective is and then go ahead and spout off all you want and leave it to the reporter to weed out the stuff that he or she thinks is less important. I know what you are trying to do is sell me on something, so go ahead and try to sell it. Don't be cautious, don't make me think you're being objective.
PRWeek: What advice would you give a young journalist?
Jacobson: You should be as totally honest with yourself as you can possibly be. You also must understand the critical importance of getting both sides of the story, and realize that there is no such thing as pure objectivity. Concentrate a lot of your effort on putting aside your personal prejudices as you write the story.
Name: Walter Jacobson
Station: WFLD-TV Chicago
Title: Co-anchor, Fox News at 9
Preferred contact method: 312-565-5525