A week has passed since veteran WTMJ-TV news anchor Mike Gousha announced his intent to leave Channel 4 in late August, and the decision is still reverberating through Milwaukee's living rooms, classrooms and competing newsrooms.
"It is huge," said Paul Piaskoski, the anchor at CBS-58. "Mike and I go way back. He helped me get my start, so it's a huge deal for me to see him quit. It's a huge deal for the market.
"Mike is, hands-down, the best anchor in the market. It's like losing a city asset. It's almost like somebody blew up the Calatrava."
Piaskoski was joking, of course.
His comment, however, provides a tiny window into a popular theory making the rounds in media circles: several observers feel that Gousha left because he was unhappy with his station's turn toward a sensational, "tabloid-style" presentation of the news.
"It is unusual to see someone of Gousha's stature -- if this is what happens -- to just leave the business and head in some other direction," said David Allen, chairman of the mass communication and journalism department at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
"I think it probably says something deeper about the state of local television news and where local television news is going. Although it seems very obvious that (Gousha) hasn't been willing to publicly be critical of the station and the moves in that direction, it does seem that with some of the changes that have been happening at WTMJ -- perhaps he's not a great fit for that format.
"I don't know Mike Gousha (personally), but from his on-air personality, I get the feeling that he's very interested in public affairs reporting," Allen said. "Local television news is moving away from that, and they are making purposeful decisions that it's not what they want to focus on any longer.
"They do stories on more light-hearted fair culture or entertainment things. I suspect people who are interested in (public affairs reporting), it probably makes it very hard to come to work each day."
Gousha, a 49-year-old Milwaukee native, joined WTMJ as a general assignment reporter in 1981, moved into the 6 p.m. anchor chair six years later and worked his way up the ladder to where he now co-anchors the broadcast at 4 p.m., hosts the news solo at 5 and shares the anchor duties at 10 p.m. with Carole Meekins.
Throughout his tenure, which has included an award-winning Sunday night interview show and a stint as moderator for the 2004 Wisconsin presidential debate, Gousha has developed an impeccable reputation with his peers inside and outside of his building.
"He's probably the finest journalist in this city," said Jay Weber, a longtime radio newsman and current host of "The Jay Weber Show," on WISN-AM (1130).
"I never detected a hint of bias in his reporting. I have no idea what political party he's up to. It says a lot in today's media that he was that type of journalist and dedicated to the craft like he was."
Weber agreed with Allen that a change in the tenor of WTMJ's news operation may have been the catalyst for Gousha's decision.
"I don't think he was happy with the direction TV news was headed, especially in that newsroom," Weber said. "It's sort of been the gold standard for straight-laced, middle of the road news and that's what he gave us for years.
"Now, there is this push to sort of do silly news or make news people personalities. That's not his style. He's not someone who is interested in being a big personality. Now, that's all they're interested in being. They're trying to be cutesy and they're using props. Gousha was more of a middle of the road guy."
Gousha, the son of former Milwaukee Public Schools Superintendent Richard Gousha, graduated from Marshall High School in Milwaukee and began learning the craft of journalism as a sophomore at UW-Madison. He began his career as a print reporter for the Capitol News Bureau in Madison and also covered educational and legislative issues for radio station WIBA before moving into a reporting job at WSAW-TV in Wausau, where he stayed until moving to WTMJ in 1981.
As an anchor, Gousha came across as confident and credible. He seldom seemed flustered on the air or flubbed lines.
"It happens every once in awhile, but it's like a lunar eclipse -- it happens once every nine years," said Piaskoski, who said he modeled his own style after Gousha's.
"When I was an intern at WTMJ, Mike totally took me under his wing," Piaskoski said. "He helped me sort through those first job offers to make sure I went to the right place at the right time. He's been someone who has kind of counseled me at various times throughout my career."
In announcing his decision, Gousha called his future plans "a work in progress." While several sources interviewed for this story feel his work is "network caliber," the general feeling is that he will stay in Milwaukee, where he and his wife, Lynn Sprangers, the president of Brewers Charities, Inc., have strong ties.
"I doubt very much this is his swan song (on Milwaukee television)," one source said. "I wouldn't be shocked at all to see him pop up somewhere else. He's a Milwaukee guy. I don't think he's going anywhere."
Host of “The Drew Olson Show,” which airs 1-3 p.m. weekdays on The Big 902. Sidekick on “The Mike Heller Show,” airing weekdays on The Big 920 and a statewide network including stations in Madison, Appleton and Wausau. Co-author of Bill Schroeder’s “If These Walls Could Talk: Milwaukee Brewers” on Triumph Books. Co-host of “Big 12 Sports Saturday,” which airs Saturdays during football season on WISN-12. Former senior editor at OnMilwaukee.com. Former reporter at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.