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Thursday, February 20, 2014

MOVERS and SHAKERS: Gerry Brooks, Connecticut Television Broadcasting Legend For Four Decades Our Coverage Sponsored by Stribling and Associates

Gerry Brooks

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In April 2014, Gerry Brooks will mark 40 years covering the people of Connecticut, and the news, weather and sports that has affected their lives.

For the past 20 years, Gerry has been the primary news anchor at NBC Connecticut (WVIT), the NBC-owned station in the Hartford-New Haven market. Through the joyous (UConn basketball national championships) and the unthinkable (the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings), Gerry has been, above all, a good neighbor, sensitive to the feelings of those who tune in to the newscasts he writes and anchors. His hallmark through the years has been a sense of good humor when warranted, and a sense of urgency when necessary.

Prior to WVIT, Gerry was an anchor/reporter for WFSB, the CBS affiliate in Connecticut. As a reporter, he carved a niche with The Brooks File, a weekly feature that put the best, and sometimes the worst of humanity on display. He also partnered with Gayle King to form an anchor team unrivaled for genuine warmth for the viewer and for each other.

Gerry has always considered himself a writer first and foremost. He honed his writing skills and broadcast personality in radio. He served as news director at WAVZ in New Haven shortly after his graduation from the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. He then moved on to WPOP Newsradio in Hartford, where he served as sports director. At that time, he also was the color commentator for UConn basketball on the Connecticut Radio Network, and served as weekend sports anchor at WHNB (now WVIT). Sports allowed Gerry to develop a skill to ad lib, to "say what you see." But radio also taught him to write quickly, accurately, and concisely. To this day, his greatest pleasure comes from tapping the keyboard, not sitting before the camera.

Gerry has been married for 33 years to Kathy, a recently-retired flight attendant for American Airlines. They have traveled the world, never been to a place they didn't enjoy, and if there's a vineyard nearby, all the better. They look forward to expanding their travels in the future given time and good health.  If you like Whom You Know, you must like Gerry Brooks because that's who Peachy Deegan was watching when she was growing up in Connecticut and he's set a great example.  We could not be more thrilled to present Gerry as our latest Mover and Shaker.  Peachy Deegan interviewed Gerry Brooks for Whom You Know.

Peachy Deegan: Whether you know it or not, you have been highly influential in affecting Peachy's journalism setting a fantastic example since she spent her whole life watching you and Gayle King when she was growing up in the Greater Hartford area-you were honorary members of the dinner table and we are pro-watching the news (when it is the right news!) when you eat dinner. How would you define your style of journalism and what have been your goals during your career?
Gerry Brooks: 
My style is to be accurate, thorough, concise, and human. I want people to know they can trust me, but I can also understand the agony and the ecstacy behind the stories I report. My goals have been to always inform, occasionally entertain, and to provide stability to the viewer, and to my own professional life.

What have been your favorite stories to cover all time?
I made my name as a feature reporter, with a franchise called “The Brooks File.” I worked primarily with a kindred spirit in a photographer named Rick Huntington. We would take a story, and stand it on its head, looking for the ridiculous and the sublime. Very few others were doing what we did at the time (the late 70s and 80s). No one and no topic was sacred.

What is the most challenging aspect of journalism?
Getting it right. Anyone can be first, not everyone gets it right. The most important part of my job is doing what I’m doing right now. Sitting at the keyboard, either copy editing or writing stories from scratch. Almost anyone can be trained to sit and read off a teleprompter. It’s what you read that makes a difference.

What have been the most rewarding times of your career?
Having the luxury of time to report stories well. These days, stories have to be turned quickly, accompanied by a live shot. “Series” are no longer series, but one piece. We used to do 5-part series to really delve into a subject. In one, we covered Connecticut’s shoreline from border-to-border, stopping along the way to investigate anything and everything that struck us as interesting. In another, my boss gave me two volumes on the Yale University Class of 1937. He told me to go find those people and report on their lives…50 years later. Experiences like that made work interesting, and I got to learn things, too.

How much influence do you have over the stories you choose to report or are they always assigned by producers?
When I was a feature reporter, I almost always had the freedom to do what I wanted. As a news anchor, I make occasional suggestions, but don’t exert a lot of control over the stories in the show.

How has broadcast journalism changed for the better and the worse over the past 40 years?
The technology has changed the way we go about our business. So much of what we do is “right now.” But lately, we’ve made a large investment in investigative reporting which adds a layer of original content to our newscasts that had been mostly absent. Social media has also had a huge impact. Most news organizations are now “digital first.” Stories will go on Twitter, Facebook and our website before they’re on the air. Again, what’s happening “right now?” What hasn’t, and can’t, change is the absolute need to be right. That includes the basic food groups: who, what, where, how and why. Leave one out, and you haven’t done your job.

What would you change about broadcast journalism if you could?
Literacy. We don’t have enough good writers. 

What should we know about your enthusiasm for wine and vineyards?
I’m not a connoisseur or a wine snob. I like what I like, and I like a lot! My wife and I have been lucky enough to visit vineyards and wineries in California, Argentina, South Africa, Switzerland, France, Germany, Spain and Portugal. I find vineyards soothing places to be. And we like talking to the people who make the wine. They clearly have a love for the grapes and the land and their product, and most enjoy sharing their experience.

Connecticut is our favorite state-what should the world know about Connecticut and why?
The world should know where Connecticut is!!! When we travel, people ask where we’re from. We tell them, and get a blank stare. Then we say, “It’s between Boston and New York,” and they get it.

What do the cities of Connecticut need to do to return to their greatness?
Educate their children.

Who is your favorite all time Whaler and what do you believe the legacy of the Hartford Whalers is? And did you go to the game when Hartford beat Edmonton 11-0?
It would be easy to say Ron Francis or Kevin Dineen. But my all-time favorite Whaler is defenseman Brad Selwood. He played with the New England Whalers of the WHA. He was a solid stay-at-home defenseman, but more importantly to me, he was a very funny (and occasionally obscene) interview.

Do you have plans to retire (we hope not and if so we hope you continue to Tweet!)?
I have a date in mind, but no time soon. And I suspect that when I do retire, my tweets will be even better with no restrictions.

We are against ageism and we are for all ages being in the television spotlight and think that people like Jay Leno should not be taken off the air when they are doing great work. What do you think about this topic?
Like everything else, this is a business decision. And unlike the last time, Leno has signed off on it. I’m sure NBC is working to keep Jay in the fold somehow. 

What or who has had the most influence on your pursuit of excellence?
It would have to be my father. He was a plumber. Whether it was mowing the lawn or shoveling the driveway, he wanted things done correctly and to the best of one’s ability. It’s a philosophy I’ve always subscribed to.

What are you proudest of and why?
I’ve only been married once, to a woman I love.

What would you like to do professionally that you have not yet had the opportunity to do?
Honestly, not a thing. I am quite content with what I’ve done. The last news program I anchor will be my best ever. In baseball parlance, I will go out throwing smoke.

What honors and awards have you received in your profession?
A couple of New England Emmys, a bunch of AP and UPI (yes, UPI) awards, induction into the Silver Circle (for people who have been in the business and done good stuff for 25+ years). I could be more specific, but all the plaques are in boxes in the basement, where they belong.

What one word best describes you and why?
Particular. Because it sounds so much better than “anal.” I like things done a certain way. (See reference to father above.)

What do you take your sense of identity from?
My family. I knew my grandparents well. We’re a Boston-centric clan, so there’s a geographical, as well as familial identity.

What is your favorite place to be in Manhattan? And Connecticut?
I can’t say I have a favorite place in Manhattan. Like Paris, Rome and London, I just enjoy “being” in Manhattan when I’m there. In Connecticut, my favorite place is home. There is no close second.

What is your favorite shop in Manhattan? And Connecticut?
I enjoy the Faconnable store in Manhattan. Any golf shop in Connecticut will do.

If you could hire anybody who would it be and why?
A great newswriter. Do you think Charles Osgood would like to come back to Hartford and write for me?

What is your favorite drink?
Jack Daniels. Rocks.

What is the funniest thing that has ever happened to you at a cocktail party?
At a suburban Hartford country club. I was on my third drink, when someone finally said, “Gerry, what are you doing here?” I told them I’d be emceeing the program. They told me they were with an accounting group, and there was no program. I was supposed to be in the next room, and missed the program. But the accountants were so amused and so nice, they paid for my drinks. It wasn’t even an open bar.

What is your favorite restaurant in Manhattan? And Connecticut?
Manhattan: There’s a small Italian place called Il Corso on West 55th we like. Cozy. I feel like I belong there.
Connecticut: There’s a small Italian place called Bravo in Rocky Hill. Cozy. I feel like I belong there.

What is your favorite Manhattan book or favorite character in Manhattan literature? And Connecticut?
Manhattan: I liked a period piece called “The Rules of Civility” by Amor Towles.
Connecticut: “The Hour I First Believed” by Wally Lamb. It’s fiction, but he used my name. Page 352, if I recall correctly.

Who would you like to be for a day and why?
Warren Buffett…strolling through Central Park…handing out hundred-dollar bills.

If you could have anything in Manhattan named after you what would it be and why? And Connecticut?
Manhattan: A cocktail, in the best Peachy Deegan tradition. Bourbon-based, perhaps.
In Connecticut: A bridge or a road. Because they name bridges and roads after everybody.

What has been your best Manhattan athletic experience? And Connecticut?
Manhattan: Calling a UMass basketball game on the radio from Madison Square Garden when I was in college.
Connecticut: Shooting a personal-best 77 on my birthday last August with my golf buddies.

What is your favorite thing to do in Manhattan that you can do nowhere else? And Connecticut?
Manhattan: My favorite thing to do in Manhattan is drink it all in. There’s only one Manhattan, and there’s nothing better than having it envelop you.
Connecticut: My favorite thing to do is be home. With my wife. On a Sunday after golf. Wine and conversation on the patio. A nice dinner. A movie. Perfect.

If you could have dinner with any person living or passed, who would it be and why?
Living: Boston Celtics legend Bill Russell. A champion of basketball and civil rights. I would love to hear his observations on everyone from Wilt Chamberlain to Barack Obama.
Passed: Mel Brooks. No, not THAT Mel Brooks. My father, Mel Brooks. It would be nice to catch up, and say some of the things we never felt the need to say.

What has been your best Manhattan art or music experience? And Connecticut?
Manhattan: The first 45rpm single I ever bought was “Sherry” by The Four Seasons in 1962. So seeing “Jersey Boys” on Broadway brought me full circle.
Connecticut: The Stones at the Hartford Civic Center. 

What do you personally do or what have you done to give back to the world?
I was struck by the lack of books in the library at a Hartford elementary school I spoke at years ago. So NBC Connecticut and I started a “Back to School Supply Drive” that we stage every August. We fill up a couple of school buses with supplies. No child should go without.

What do you think is most underrated and overrated in Manhattan? And Connecticut?
Manhattan: Sidewalk vendors are both underrated and overrated. Choose carefully.
Connecticut: Pizza. We have some of the best in the world. And then…

Other than Movers and Shakers of course, what is your favorite Whom You Know column and what do you like about it?
Being a native Bostonian, I enjoyed the column Peachy's Picks Boston which includes Durgin Park. It’s nice to know that an institution is thriving, and in good hands.

Have you tried The Peachy Deegan yet and if not, why not? 
Not yet, but you can be assured I will and be photographed in mid-consumption.

What else should Whom You Know readers know about you?
I love to travel. My wife is a recently-retired flight attendant. Someday, given more time and the proper resources, we’ll explore Asia and Australia. 

How would you like to be contacted by Whom You Know readers?
My Facebook page is “Gerry Brooks NBC Connecticut.”
On Twitter, “Gerry Brooks.” 
Feel free to “like” or “follow.”

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