Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Soup Cans Interview: Paul Mueller

Paul Mueller has been in the television news business for 15 years and during that time, not once has he felt the need to come out of the closet. That's because he's always been open about his sexuality. The openly gay news anchor has toiled on news desks all over the country but has recently found his way back home on home turf in New England, this time anchoring over at ABC affiliate WLNE-TV. Mueller spoke to Soup Cans about his life as an out news anchor and he also shared with us his thoughts about the recent departure from WHDH of his friend and long-time Boston anchor Randy Price. Mueller told us that "Randy has ended yet another chapter of his life." He added, "If I know Randy, he has many more chapters to go. It wouldn't surprise me at all to see him pop up at another station in Boston in the future. Not only is he one of the few remaining distinguished journalists on the Boston landscape, he's also a very good guy who's always willing to help young journalists further their career."

Why is it that there are so few visible gay news anchors?

Why are there so few visible gay anchors? I think this is, in part, because most general managers would rather hire a straight man as their main anchor. Sure, the gay and lesbian community has come a long way in the last few decades but as one of the main faces of the station, I think management tends to avoid gay men and lesbians as they cater to their audiences. Of course, there are a handful of gay anchors I know. Some are out, others are not. I've always been very forthcoming about my sexuality with management. Being gay just adds an extra dimension to a person's personality. As for management at my station, I think being gay was actually a plus when being chosen as the early afternoon anchor and lead nightside reporter. There are plenty of gay reporters out there but, of course, they are in very different roles. They are not the main faces of the station.

Read on to hear Mueller's thoughts about ditching the news business, why an anchor's "coming out" is his/her own prerogative and how he has to explain to some of his admiring viewers that just because he's missing a wedding band from his ring finger doesn't mean that he's looking for a wife.

What are some of the biggest challenges facing gay news anchors?

I think as news anchors, we face so many challenges each and every day, regardless of whether we are gay, straight, or somewhere in between. Can Joe and Mary Bluejean relate to an openly gay anchor? Of course, to answer that question would be to make a sweeping generalization. Some could. Other's couldn't. It's so important that the audience connects with the anchor team and it's up to each and every individual and their willingness to watch a gay news anchor. On the lighter side of things, I receive plenty of emails asking if I'm single since I don't wear a wedding ring and I always reply by saying -- you know, I'm not in a relationship but I try to keep work separate from my personal life. If they press on with another email, that's when I respectfully tell them that I'm interested in men, not women.

With such an attitude shift about gays and lesbians in the country lately, what do you think about the possibility of seeing a major closeted network or cable news anchor coming out sometime soon?

I have many friends who are correspondents for the networks who are gay, and many of them are very open about it. Of course it's up to the individual whether he or she decides to come out. I don't believe it's up to anyone else to "out" them. There are several major cable news anchor who I can think of who are gay that haven't publicly revealed their sexual orientation. Do they need to? That's really a decision they have to make based on their confidence level. We want to be seen as journalists and not the gay journalist. Sometimes coming out seems to muddy the waters and makes viewers more concerned about sexual orientation than story content and delivery.

Television news is a tough business. Was there ever a moment during your career that you thought you should just ditch it and try something else?

I'd be lying if I said no. I think television news is one of the toughest, cut-throat businesses there are. I was laid off as the weekend anchor from the WB affiliate after the station owners sold to another station. From there, I freelanced for quite some time. I even went out to Seattle to try a change of location. To say it didn't work would be a complete understatement. It was in Seattle that I really questioned if I had come to the end of the line in my career. The phone wasn't ringing. Freelance work was tough to get. I almost threw in the towel but luckily didn't. I've now come back home and continue to do what I love.

Over the years, you've bounced back and forth from New England to other parts of the country. How does it feel to back working in the region once again?

It's always good to be home and close to family and friends. I started off in Tyler, Texas and lived there for 2 years and made countless trips back home to Boston because I missed New England so much. There's nothing like being in the area I grew up in and know the people, political figures, ways to correctly say the names of cities and towns because I've been there. There's nothing better than getting a status report from my mother as to my performance on the news that night!

What story in your career has affected you the most?

This is a timely question. We're coming up on the 6th anniversary of the Station Nightclub fire in West Warwick, Rhode Island. I was one of the first reporters on the scene that frigid February night. The building went up in flames in a mere 3 minutes. People were piled one on top of the other just feet from freedom. They are images that will never leave me. I had never seen that much emergency equipment in my life, that many emergency responders. I'll never forget the look on people's faces as they walked aimlessly in the street, having been in the club just minutes before and now it was reduced to nothing but rubble. We all know about the 6 Degrees of Separation. In Rhode Island, since it is such a small state, it's more like 1/6 of a Degree of Separation. Out of the 100 people killed that night and 200 others injured, Rhode Islanders either knew one of those people or knew of someone who knew one of those injured or killed. I had worked for 10 hours that day before being rushed out the door to cover the fire. For the next 12 hours, I was on the air. It's something I will never, ever forget.

Who are your journalistic heroes?

Who are my journalistic heroes? Hmm, good question. I have to say Edward R. Murrow to start, Peter Jennings, one of my mentors Jeffrey Kofman of ABC News, and longtime aviation reporter now consultant to NBC Bob Hagar. I'm an avid aviation buff and there's no one who can tell a story like him. Also Steve Hartmann and the photographer he often works with, Les Rose. They did a segment for CBS called "Everyone has a story." The two of them were a dream team that really made stories come alive.

1 comment:

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no way!!! this is gay?...if you don't realize it I talk with all the possible sarcasm, of course he is gay, many years ago I noticed this.