Rob King and Colbert I. King on journalism, fatherhood and a new generation
"I learned from Rob what 'above the fold,' 'deadline,' 'on background' and all that other newspaper jargon meant because he was my mentor when my journalism career began," King said of his son, Rob King, ESPN's senior vice president of SportsCenter and News. "I’m a late bloomer, joining The Washington Post as an editorial writer in 1990, years after Rob began his journey in Danville, Illinois."
His son grew up wanting to be an editorial cartoonist and remembers a time when piles of newspapers arrived at their house daily.
"Looking back on it, I was apparently conditioned to believe a newsroom lay in my future," said the younger King, who also serves on Poynter's board of trustees.
King's career in journalism was already underway when his father, previously a State Department diplomat and a deputy assistant secretary at the Treasury Department, called to talk about becoming a columnist at the Post.
"That’s right," the younger King said. "He started at the top."
In honor of Father's Day, both journalists answered a few questions via email about what they've learned from each other as journalists, what they've learned from each other as fathers and the possibility of a third generation of Kings in the newsroom.
[caption id="attachment_417457" align="aligncenter" width="720"] Colbert I. King spoke on stage with his son at the Pulitzer Prize Centennial celebration in St. Petersburg, Florida on Thursday, March 31, 2016. (Photo by Octavio Jones)[/caption]
What have you learned from each other about journalism?
C.K: I learned from Rob that I had to develop a thicker skin. One of my first columns in 1990 was headlined “Meir Kahane as Malcolm X.” The town went wild. I called Rob in fear. His fatherly advice: “Dad, suck it up.”
R.K.: With every column he writes, Dad reinforces the power of staying true to your values and having the courage to ask others to do the same. He also reminds me that we’re here to serve our audiences. To care what they think, to give them voice.
What's the biggest change you've seen in our industry during your time in it?
C.K.: Technology. New tools of the trade, new vocabulary…what's 'a platform,' new job titles, unchecked glibness.
R.K.: Our audience is no longer passive. It is no longer a nameless, faceless mass audience. It’s a massive audience of individuals, empowered by technology to determine what, how and when (or even if) it consumes information. We can’t expect their attention or their trust or their time. We have to earn it.
[caption id="attachment_417458" align="aligncenter" width="841"] Rob King is ESPN's senior vice president, SportsCenter and News (Photo by Octavio Jones)[/caption]
You're both fathers. What have you learned from each other about fatherhood?
R.K.: Simply put: I understand now … Dad has always been right. About pretty much everything.
C.K.: Sons are smarter.
Any chance there will be a third generation of Kings in the newsroom?
R.K.: My son announced the other day that he has interest in becoming a Pixar animator someday. My youngest is a natural artist. But my middle child, my nine-year-old daughter, is a voracious reader and author of eight-page “novels” with titles such as “Villain Overkill and the Robo Teckneek Robots.” She’s likely The One.
C.K.: A first generation of publishers and presidents.