Surely, the world of hard-nosed, shoe-leather trade journalism is a bit quieter today. Arguably the dean of the profession, John Higgins, left far too early, at 45.
This coming Monday thousands in our industry will, out of force of habit, turn to B&C to find John’s take on the big financial story of the week, written with numerous unnamed sources and in his patented style of setting out an argument and then providing reasons, numbered 1-5, for his thesis.
More often than not, Higgins was must reading for all since his words created the agenda for the coming week. Sometimes for the week after that, witness Freston and Zaslav, to name just two.
Roll out all the clichés you care to: mind like a steel trap, a step ahead of everyone, a gruff exterior but a teddy bear inside, we paled in comparison to him, his sources were impeccable, he was the best. All true.
Heck, even when he was beaten on a story (a rare occurrence), his follow-up had more insight than the cover stories the rest of us wrote. And he was great off the cuff. Did you catch him filling in as a panelist at the last minute during CTAM’s Summit? During the session, “Show Me the Money: Monetizing Portable Media,” with some of cable’s best thinkers (Advance-Newhouse’s Arthur Orduna and ABC-Disney’s Albert Cheng were two), John stood out, casually tossing off statistics and cracking relevant jokes. I left that panel inspired to work harder and read more. I was also just a bit envious.
I don’t think I’m destroying John’s reputation for being like a hungry bear when chasing down a news story when I reveal an incident that bonded me to John. As most coming up in the business, I feared and envied John Higgins. But one day, both he and I stumbled on a story about a cable executive we knew professionally and personally. The executive had broken several laws, we found out. The executive pleaded with us separately that there was no story here.
Next thing I knew John Higgins was calling me. I’ll admit, I trembled, but felt honored that the mighty man was phoning, and this reporter who struck fear into the minds of PR people and executives alike was talking to me as a colleague.
In short order John and I agreed that there was a story here, that our friend was probably guilty, but John said both he and I should sit on the story. Yes, we were betraying one of the cardinal rules of journalism, but you don’t argue the finer points of the profession with John Higgins. “We’re acting as friends, not as reporters,” I remember John telling me.
Months later the story that John and I thought we had that day was all over the trades and the mass media. While I felt betrayed by the executive who’d misled us, I didn’t care. John Higgins and I had bonded.