Journalists remember Paul Pohlman, ‘a quiet leader who helped countless journalists’

Journalists and Poynter colleagues shared memories of Paul Pohlman, 70, who died Wednesday.

Poynter senior faculty member Butch Ward:

It’s striking how many people, remembering Paul this afternoon, called him a great “coach.” That’s exactly what he spent so many years convincing leaders to become — great coaches. Clearly, he taught what he knew. And he knew it very well.

Paul is one of those wonderful teachers whose impact on those he coached has lasted for years. Talk to folks who came to Poynter 20 years ago and they tell you about the difference Paul Pohlman made in their careers. Quite a legacy, eh? Oh, that we all could have such a positive impact on the direction of someone’s career. Come to think of it, that’s exactly what Paul tried to convince all of us leaders we all could do.

But if you really wanted to know Paul, you had to spend some time with him at the ballpark. Talking about his beloved (and usually beleaguered) Cleveland Indians. Or his adopted favorite team, the Rays. Hear him every spring, talking with optimism about the player who might be the long-awaited answer. Hear him in mid-summer, a bit more realistic, but still a believer in late-inning rallies. Get him to a last game in late September, and realize that the winning didn’t really matter all that much — he just plain loved the game.

That’s what I loved about Paul Pohlman. Whether or not we excelled or stumbled, he still hung in with us. Still coaching, still cajoling, still encouraging. He just plain loved the game — and most of all, the people who try to play it the best they can.

Paul Pohlman (left) at a baseball game with Poynter’s Butch Ward and Kelly McBride.

Dallas Morning News editor and Poynter fellow Tom Huang:

I first met Paul when I attended a Poynter seminar more than 10 years ago. At first, I was skeptical of his teaching methods. All he seemed to do was ask the seminar’s participants a bunch of questions, as if he hadn’t fully prepared for the session.

Boy, was I wrong.

It wasn’t until I was a Poynter fellow in 2008 that I learned about Paul’s magic. Watching him closely, I began to see how he built his teaching around the gentle art of asking questions. He wouldn’t lecture to his students. Instead, he would guide them and coax them into confronting his questions. He would encourage them to think for themselves.

He was a masterful coach.

And so, when I first began to teach at Poynter, I would always get Paul’s advice whenever I was designing a teaching session. I would write down every point that I wanted to make, and we would go through the session, step by step. And he would ask me his trademark probing questions: Well, what would happen if you did it this way? How do you think the participants would respond? What ways can you make your point more clearly?

Paul helped me become a better teacher. More importantly, Paul and I became good friends. He was an avid baseball fan, and we went to many Tampa Bay Rays games in 2008, the year the team went all the way to the World Series.

In the years since, whenever I returned to Poynter to teach, I could always count on going to a Rays game with Paul. I will miss him for his coaching, for the baseball games, for his friendship.

Poynter President Karen B. Dunlap:

I’m grateful to Paul Pohlman for trying to explain to me why major league pitchers seldom go nine innings anymore. I thought they did, back when my father watched Sandy Koufax and Bob Gibson. One day at lunch in Poynter’s snack room Paul grumbled in his quiet bass about what Tampa Bay Rays relievers were or weren’t doing, so I raised the question to really get him going. It worked.

Paul loved baseball; he excelled at teaching and practicing the skills of leadership. He taught that some lead by official power and some lead by influence. He led with both. He was an early head of Poynter leadership programs, a member of the senior team in guiding Poynter and a remarkable force in knitting together people and efforts. He coached new staff members on the whats and whys of the Institute. As the Institute began teaching more custom programs in organizations and forming partnerships, Paul led in shaping agreements.

We called Paul Nelson Pohlman the long lost son of Institute founder Nelson Paul Poynter. They shared similar names, gray hair, a slight facial resemblance and mid-western backgrounds, but Paul didn’t seek position. Instead he saw needs and filled the gaps.

He was my wise adviser and friend for over two decades. A steady presence, a good spirit, I will miss him so.

Poynter affiliate Bill Mitchell:

I’ll remember Paul as Poynter’s truth-teller: In seminars when a difficult issue was being avoided, in staff meetings when we were too polite to face an awkward reality, in personal conversations with the door closed when the truth sometimes hurt. Paul brought to all this truth-telling the wit and wisdom of a kind man who always put the rest of us first.

Poynter director of training partnerships and alliances Howard Finberg

Paul Pohlman is one of the unsung heroes of Poynter’s e-learning project, News University.

Like many heroes, Paul did not see his role as being heroic. Or even very important. Yet I’m convinced that Poynter NewsU would not have been as successful without Paul’s quiet guidance, enthusiastic support and good humor.

He made a difference when it came to Poynter’s future for many reasons. Because Paul was perceived as an analog person in a digital world, his vocal support of e-learning was critical. At times he would push hard for more e-learning, more digital offerings. He pushed harder than myself or the other members of the NewsU crew.

Maybe it was the chocolate or other food that seemed to be in abundance around the desks of the e-learning department that attracted Paul. He liked hanging out, even briefly, with the producers and others in the department. Maybe it was because the energy and humor of the young folks. Probably it was for the chocolate.

What made Paul role so important to the development of Poynter NewsU was his understanding and insights into teachers, such as Poynter’s faculty, and teaching. He had an excellent sense of the art and science of developing a curriculum, especially one that would serve adult learners.

Paul didn’t really look back. He didn’t talk about the past as if it was the only golden age.  I would like to think that approach to life is what attracted him to e-learning and the future he saw for Poynter training.

Sometimes, for effect or in seriousness, he would say Poynter should stop doing seminars and teaching only online. It was bold. And it mattered because it was from Paul.

Poynter senior faculty member Jill Geisler:

Paul Pohlman was the key “recruiter” when I joined the Poynter Institute in 1998. It was a tough decision to leave my newsroom and Paul knew it. So he talked with me about his vision for great teaching and for helping journalists do important work. He patiently listened to my every question, every doubt, every need for plans and details.

I already knew Paul to be a master teacher, since I’d seen him in seminars, where he could simultaneously engage the classroom and just as easily slip into the background as robust conversation and learning took hold. That’s when he was happiest — when smart people were learning as much from each other as from him. He promised to help me learn how to make that classroom magic happen.

I loved to watch Paul coach people. He did it in seminars, he did it for his Poynter colleagues — and he taught it to managers. For a Poynter column a few years back, he agreed to let me put him on video tape to share his thoughts on why managers need to become good coaches:

Paul was a quiet leader who helped countless journalists and each of his Poynter colleagues grow. I’m so glad I chose to follow him.

 


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