In honor of Gabe Pressman

Six months ago, I sat with my journalism professor in his office, stressed about how I had no internship coming up for my final spring semester. My advisor, Steve Miller, sent me an email a few hours later, about a reporter named Gabe Pressman who needed an intern. He told me, Gabe is “an excellent supervisor and mentor for students seriously interested in pursuing journalism.”

I called him Gabe immediately, addressing him as Mr. Pressman because I was so nervous to talk to him. He invited me to his house for an interview at the end of the week. Friday came along and I was walking down Central Park West in my heels, and I remember stopping, taking my shoes off, and just wondering what I was going to talk to Gabe about. Do I ask him about the time he interviewed The Beatles? Or what about his interview with Fidel Castro? Or when he met JFK? Or Martin Luther King?

My nerves were high as I rode the elevator in his building to the top. These weren’t just pre-interview nerves, they were “I’m about to talk to an amazing freakin’ reporter” nerves. I knocked on his door gently and wiped my sweaty palms on my dress pants. The heavy, white door creaked open, and a short man with a gentle face opened the door. “You must be Sophie,” he said to me.

I just said, “Oh my god, Mr. Pressman. Hi.” He led me to two sofa chairs by a huge window that overlooked Central Park. It was early December, so the leaves were falling off the trees. “It’s more beautiful in the spring,” he promised.

We talked a bit about my resume, my skills in journalism and the passion I had. He told me he saw a fire in me and could tell journalism was what I wanted to do. He asked if I had any questions, and I decided ask about Fidel Castro, who had just died. He told me the first of many stories he’d recount to me, explaining how he ran after a train without knowing where it was going, demanded an interview with Fidel Castro, even telling a little fib about how if he didn’t get this story, he was out of a job. For a 92-year old man, he was telling me the story as if it happened yesterday. He brought me over to a wall of photos he has, filled with pictures of him with every president since Truman, photographs of his children and grandchildren, and some images of celebrities and activists he met during his years as a journalist.

It was then he decided I was his intern. I remember getting the call from him while sitting in my friend’s house with my peers working on a final. He told me he didn’t care if HR didn’t want me, all that mattered was he wanted me as his intern. He said he saw the passion he had as a young journalist in me. Gabe told me that if I was ready, I’m his intern. He took me under his wing, and as Steve Miller said, Gabe definitely was an excellent mentor and supervisor. I wouldn’t hesitate to go as far as amazing.

I went in for training on the day he was filming his famous “Yes, Virginia” segment that Channel 4 shows every year around the holidays. I watched tourists in Rockefeller Plaza snap photos of him, ask for selfies, tell him how they watched him since the 80’s, since the 70’s, since they were children in the 60’s.

In the months I spent as his intern, we worked diligently to put together Facebook posts of some of his memories. The funny thing about Gabe was his sometimes, his short term memory was a little foggy; he’d forget names or confuse dates. But one thing about him that always shocked me was how he remembered his stories from 50 years ago so vividly. All I had to do was bring up that it was the anniversary of something, and we would talk for hours about it. I’d take notes as he talked, looking for old posts of his or anything to jog his memory. We wrote about George Polk, Malcolm X, Elvis Presley. We wrote about ticker tape parades, the surrendering of wars, riots and shootings. We wrote about the first amendment, his disdain for the White House Correspondents Dinner, even threw some shade at Sean Spicer’s Hitler remarks by writing about his trip to Auschwitz as a young boy.

More than writing, we talked. I walked him in and out of the building every day. I knew his life, all about his kids who he was so proud of. He beamed like a new father whenever he talked about them. We discussed about the importance of journalism, especially in this day and age. He told me to always be objective. Never take no for an answer was the thing that always stuck with me. Ask the tough questions, he told me. Ask the questions other people won’t ask. Ask the questions they won’t answer. He encouraged me to report on the tough topics. I showed him a story I was working on at school about Rutgers reporting questionable numbers to IPEDS, and he was so happy. His intern was asking the tough questions, he told people. “She’s going to take down the administration,” Gabe would exaggerate to coworkers.

He turned 93-years old during my internship, but you wouldn’t guess it. Gabe still came into the office and worked, he read the news and chatted up members of the I-team to talk about the latest stories. He would ask me about my weekend, my boyfriend and the school paper.

Gabe kept working during his last few months at WNBC. He wanted another intern after me, and I recommended my friend Alex. He would eventually take her under his wing for the month he was her boss. He worked right up to last week. Gabe did what he loved until his final days.

I’m not sure what I’m feeling right now. I don’t know how to put into words what I lost. Gabe was not just my boss and my mentor. He became my friend. I’m reading all these obituaries about how he was the “dean of journalism” or “the reporter’s reporter.” And he was, don’t get me wrong. But I think he was more than that. He embodied journalism, the first amendment, and fairness. You’d never know if he was a republican or a democrat, he was a reporter. He was objective, and gave both sides. He told me that was the essential of journalism. Gabe worked as a reporter his whole life, not just the 60 years he was on air. Before he was even a real journalist, he would write his own family news booklets and give them out at dinners. I think that’s the most important thing he taught me. If you’re passionate, you’ll never work a day in your life.

Well Gabe, I’m running out of words. Like I told you, you’re an amazing person. You taught me so much about journalism at such a young age. You’ve instilled a greater love of history in me, even though you’re the biggest history buff I know. I’m grateful for the skills you’ve given me. I hope I can make you proud. I’m lucky enough you saw my passion and dedication to this industry. You never doubted my abilities. Even so, you taught me more than you’ll ever know.

I will miss you Gabe. I already do. But like I told you, I promise to always be your intern.

Love always,

Sophie

 

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