If you ever meet Mike Gousha, the veteran former anchor at WTMJ-TV, don't ask him if he's retired. Just because he left broadcast journalism last August doesn't mean he's lost his relevancy. The venerable Gousha, who's only 51 years old, is now the public face for Marquette University's law school and he's actively working on raising the program's profile through seminars, debates and conferences.
We caught up with the two-time Emmy Award winner recently to discuss his career, his love of Milwaukee, his future plans -- and why he left the most coveted job in local television.
OMC: I've never begun an interview by asking this question.
Gousha: Uh oh.
OMC: But I think it's a question that most people who haven't heard from you since you left Channel 4 want to know: How are you?
MG: I'm great, I'm doing very well. I have some exciting new challenges on the work front. On the personal side, my wife and I have had a little more time together since leaving TV. It's been great.
OMC: Can you tell our readers a little bit about your new job at Marquette?
MG: The official title is "Distinguished Fellow in Law and Public Policy." My friends are still giving me a hard time about that. They say that it's a pretty fancy title for a guy who wore makeup and read out loud for most of his adult life. That's the official title, but the goal is really to make Marquette a leader in (creating) a serious discussion of important issues. We want to be a place where newsmakers visit regularly, where political debates are held on a regular basis, and where we have forward-looking, solution-oriented conferences. Trying to tackle some of the issues, not just facing Milwaukee, but on a national scale.
OMC: How has the transition been from working in TV for the last 30 years? Has it been easier or more difficult than you expected?
MG: It's been fairly smooth, and I think that's because I'm still doing a lot of the same things I did in television. I'm still acting as an interviewer, a moderator, a facilitator at many of our events. There's a comfort level there. It's gone pretty smoothly.
OMC: What can you talk about regarding your departure from Channel 4? Why did you do it? What are the differences, if any, between the public perception and why you really left?
MG: I think there were two main reasons why I decided to leave. One is that I'd been at Channel 4 for 25 years and doing essentially the same things for 25 years. Really, 30 years in my broadcast journalism career. And there was an urge to do some new things. I think that's human nature. The second thing is, and I've been very honest about this, and I've said this both publicly and privately: I wrestled with some of the changes that I saw in television news, so I thought, now's a good time, by my standards; I'm still a fairly young man. I thought if I was going to do something, now was the time to do it.
OMC: Someone said to me the other day that he perceived you as the last real journalist on Milwaukee TV. Has anyone ever said that to you?
MG: That's kind for that person to say that. There are a lot of good people who still work in TV news and are working hard to do the right things. I just tried to do the best I could on a daily basis, but I do appreciate it when people say things like that.
OMC: Now that you're not at the station, who do you watch? Who do you like locally?
MG: I have friends still at the station, so I'm checking in to see how Channel 4 is doing. I try to watch all the stations a little bit, so I have some idea of what's going on. I am probably like some people, I'm flipping around a little bit to catch things. But, certainly I still have friends at (Channel) 4, so old habits die hard on that front.
MG: That's a good question. I think that you're right that there was a time when Milwaukee was considered a destination, the place where you hoped to spend a lot of your life working. I think that's changed a little bit for reasons that I'm not entirely clear on. I think that perhaps it's the size of the market. Milwaukee used to be a "20s" market, now it's a "30s" market. For some folks who are getting into the business, that might not be working (in Milwaukee's) favor. They may want to move on to something bigger.
I think, frankly, there may not be as many people going into journalism as there used to be. There's a change in that, and I think that there are a lot of changes going on in media, as you folks well know.
OMC: Did you ever have any opportunities to jump to a larger market? And if so, why did you choose to stay in Milwaukee?
MG: Sure. We had opportunities back in the early '90s. I was offered the 9 p.m. job at WGN in Chicago. I've been offered opportunities in the Twin Cities on a couple of different occasions. I've been approached by NBC on some things, and I turned down a job with CNN in mid '80s. But my wife, Lynn, and I feel very strongly about this community. It's been good to us. We have deep roots here, and so we've decided to stay. And even when I left Channel 4, we gave it a lot of thought, and we decided that we wanted to continue living in Milwaukee.
OMC: How have your own media consumption habits changed over the years?
MG: Because of my age, I lived through the time where the evening news was the dominant news event of the day. That, and the arrival or the morning paper, and even the afternoon paper. Obviously, we don't have afternoon papers around, for the most part. The evening news audience continues to shrink. And we've had the advent of all these new sources of information. Like most people, I take advantage of the sources of information. I am a regular reader of many things on the Web. I want the information now, and I want as many sources as possible. I'm still a news junkie. I'm sampling in many different places. When I want to watch a nightly newscast, often I'm not home at 5:30, but I certainly can watch CNN or check in with FOX or watch something that has a little more point of view, like the Keith Olbermann show.
OMC: Your wife told me recently that you actually wanted to be a jazz musician.
MG: Yeah, I was seriously into jazz when I was a young guy in high school. I played it all the time and listened to it almost exclusively.
OMC: Do you play an instrument?
MG: I was a sax player. I seriously thought about it and applied at a few music schools. But ultimately, I decided that it would be a crazy way to make a living, so I decided to go into the much more sane world of television news.
OMC: That's arguable.
MG: Yeah, but I was very serious about it. I played in some jazz funk bands, too.
OMC: Do you still play?
MG: I really don't. Lynn has encouraged me. She said I should go back to the Conservatory and take lessons or ask Berkeley Fudge for help. It's something I consider every now and then.
OMC: What's it like to be a Milwaukee celebrity? Can you go anywhere without getting recognized? Is it weird not to have the kind of privacy most people take for granted?
MG: I don't know if it's weird. I guess it goes with the territory. People have been unfailingly nice and really kind since I left the job. It's something you get used to. I tend to be sort of a private person. I'm not always the life of the party. It's not my style, and people who know me know that. So it is a little different for me, because that's not really my nature. But it's been generally a very positive experience, and you live your life accordingly.
MG: Yeah, there are probably a few. I would say there were big stories that I remember well. The biggest included the Miller Park crane collapse, and I was on the air when it happened, and I watched that tragic story unfold over a period of hours. We were on the air straight for about 6 1/2 hours. The Dahmer case is one you always remember, and not for good reasons. I still think sometimes we're haunted by the story, from our national image standpoint. The cryptosporidium story, for me, when we found out that water was not safe to drink in Milwaukee -- that was a fascinating story because it was related to health. Sometimes you don't see a lot of stories like that in local or even national news.
Life-changing stories for me? Probably, I would say two come to mind. I did a series in the mid '80s, where I spent a month down in Central America, in El Salvador and Nicaragua. Those were two countries that were really having some interesting internal struggles at the time. We were doing a piece on refugees who fled to Milwaukee. The Catholic Church had invited them, in many respects, in defiance of U.S. policy. But it was life changing because I realized that after visiting these countries, which were very poor, just how fortunate we are in this country. All the wealth we have, all of the freedoms we have. I also realized that people around us were celebrating the most simple joys in life, and we were so kindly welcomes into their homes. They enjoyed the little things in life that too often we ignore or are too busy to appreciate.
OMC: In this world of wall-to-wall "American Idol" news coverage, would that series ever get produced again in Milwaukee news?
MG: I don't know, that's a good question. It's not a sexy topic, but I thought it was very telling and was a prelude to the immigration debate. The other story I was going to mention was just having covered presidential inaugurations and even a presidential funeral. The inaugurations, and I've been to both Democrat and Republican -- it doesn't really matter what your politics are -- if you don't feel a sense of pride and emotion on a day like that, there's something wrong with you. You feel proud of what this country offers. I don't want to sound like I'm standing here, waving the flag, but it is true, you appreciate what you have. Both of those stories change you.
OMC: Is there anyone at your old job that you particularly miss working with?
MG: There are wonderful people at Channel 4 that I worked with for years who still work there. I probably shouldn't start naming names, because I'll leave people out.
OMC: Should we just say "everyone?"
MG: I loved them all. Well, almost all.
OMC: Will Milwaukee ever see you on TV again?
MG: That's a fair question. I think there's a chance at that. One of the great things about the Marquette job is that they've given me the encouragement and support to take on independent journalism projects. I think it's important to maintain your relevance. I intend to do that. I'm talking to a couple people about two different documentary possibilities right now. I'm also just talking to a number of people about possible media opportunities. I think there will be a media component in my life, whether it's television, radio, newspaper, online -- that's still to be determined. But I am talking with people, and I think at some point I will probably dabble again.
OMC: Is everyone in the Milwaukee media trying to get you to work for them right now?
MG: It's nice that people think that I might have some value to bring to the table, but you know, we'll get that all figured out.
Andy is the president, publisher and founder of OnMilwaukee. He returned to Milwaukee in 1996 after living on the East Coast for nine years, where he wrote for The Dallas Morning News Washington Bureau and worked in the White House Office of Communications. He was also Associate Editor of The GW Hatchet, his college newspaper at The George Washington University.
Before launching OnMilwaukee.com in 1998 at age 23, he worked in public relations for two Milwaukee firms, most of the time daydreaming about starting his own publication.
Hobbies include running when he finds the time, fixing the rust on his '75 MGB, mowing the lawn at his cottage in the Northwoods, and making an annual pilgrimage to Phoenix for Brewers Spring Training.