February 6, 2023

Lifetime INBA member and longtime Illinois news director, Paul Davis, dies at 82

Paul Davis has an impressive resume; an anchor, reporter, and later news director at WCIA (Champaign) from 1960-1980, news director at WGN (Chicago) 1980-1994, one of four journalists to serve as president of the Radio Television News Directors Association (RTDNA) and the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), a former INBA president, two-time Illinoisan of the Year, and lifetime INBA member, among other achievements.

WCIA photo

As you’ll read from those who knew him, his legacy is more than a resume.

Davis died of cancer over the weekend at 82-years-old, according to reporting by Robert Feder. He was born in Effingham, Illinois, and died at Heritage Health Therapy and Senior Care in Gibson City, Illinois.

Davis’ friends and former colleagues emphasized his relationships with people.

Feder’s article states,

“Jim Disch, longtime assistant news director under Davis, recalled: “My best years in the TV news business were those spent with Paul at WGN. He was instrumental in guiding the TV careers of many journalists, not just in Chicago, but across the nation.”

INBA spoke to longtime member, John Paul, Monday night. While Paul said he only worked for Davis for three years at WCIA, the two always reconnected at INBA conventions and recently kept in touch; talking on the phone every couple weeks for the past few years.

Paul said he always recognized Davis’ voice over the phone, “He had that voice that you just knew,” he said, “Paul had a very iconic voice.”

Paul said Davis used his talents to help others.

WCIA photo

“Paul [Davis] had a knack for finding people with the right stuff, the potential, and let them do their thing.”

He said Davis knew how to find good people and push them to do better. As Feder reports, Davis advanced the careers of Steve Sanders, Joan Esposito, Jim Williams, Roseanne Tellez, Dan Roan, Allison Payne and Pat Harvey, among many others. He advised, coached and mentored even more.

Paul said journalism was in Davis’ DNA. His mother, Zona B. Davis, was the news director at WCRA 1090-AM from 1949-1978. “Unlike a police report, she always had detail where you’d go ‘where the hell did you find this’,” said Paul. He said Davis picked up on her skills.

When asked to describe Davis’ news philosophy, Paul said, “He loved politics, loved hard news stories,” he said, “[Davis] wanted to be first but also wanted to be accurate.” He called Davis a hard news guy who wasn’t big on fluffy stuff.

WCIA photo

Feder reports that Davis moved up the ranks by starting at Georgetown College in Kentucky, then Baylor University in Texas, then earning a degree from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. As a student at U of I, he joined the WCIA news department as an anchor-reporter in 1960. He became news director just seven years later. By 1980, he would be the news director at “Chicago’s Very Own” WGN-TV.

As Feder put it,

“… he oversaw the transformation of a mediocre news operation into what would become a ratings and reporting powerhouse. He served under five general managers. At his direction, WGN expanded the 9 p.m. weekday newscast to a full hour in 1983 and added newscasts at noon weekdays and on weekend mornings. He also opened the Tribune station group’s first Washington, D.C., bureau.”

While Davis made a name for himself in Chicago, Paul said, “he was still the same small town guy.”

Paul said Davis had a healthy sense of humor, even as the boss. He said sometimes Davis would tell the anchors a joke during commercial breaks and, “Would give you the punchline right before you came out of the break!”

With that spoonful of sugar, came some medicine. He said, “Paul could be very critical, but also he’d praise on you if you deserved it.”

Others who knew him, admired his ability to embrace work and play.

INBA board member, Mike Miletich, wrote on Twitter, “I spoke with him [Davis] at many Illinois News Broadcasters Association conventions, but my favorite moments were sessions he had with students. He always knew how to motivate young broadcasters and his laugh was contagious.”

Current Recording Secretary and former INBA President, Laura Trendle Polus, said on Facebook, “When I was president, he told me ‘You run a good meeting,’ and I was proud. He loved coming to visit at TV-10; talking to students in groups and mentoring one-on-one.”

Paul Davis meets one-on-one with an ISU student.

“Paul Davis was a booming presence at WGN-TV and in life,” said Paul Rennie, vice president and general manager of WGN.

In conclusion Paul said Davis “was formed in the image of Walter Cronkite.”

The INBA will honor Davis’ contributions to journalism by naming its Crystal Mic Award for Best TV Newscast after him. The first Crystal Mic for Best TV Newscast will be awarded at the INBA fall convention in Rockford.

Aaron Eades

As a student, it's often difficult to picture what working in the real world will be like. For me, the INBA bridged that gap by giving me the chance to talk to professionals who used to be in the same shoes I'm in now.

Molly Jirasek

One of my top goals in my career was to get to Chicago. Thanks to INBA I met Margaret Larkin. She remembered our great conversations about Chicago and first alerted me to a job opening in the city I might be interested in. Lo and behold, I got that job! INBA helped me reach my dream.

Jeff Bossert

When I was working in radio for the first time, I had no idea whether I could truly handle the demands. But INBA made me curious and want to improve. Even now, when I’ve maybe worked a lot of hours or planned some stories that didn’t come together for one reason or another, what I learn from an INBA conference gets me re-invigorated about the business.

Michelle Eccles McLaughlin

INBA is an organization that really caters to continuing education for professionals. It offers a relatively inexpensive way to learn new things, reinforce best practices and network.

Jennifer Fuller

INBA is not only a great networking tool, it also provides advocacy and support for journalists in an ever-changing world.

Mike Miletich

Joining the INBA was one of my best life decisions. I met some of the best broadcast journalists while I was still a college student. Plus, I ended up getting a job through the connections I made!

Brian O'Keefe

One of the greatest benefits for me has been getting to see and know other parts of the state. I’m not from Illinois and traveling to spring and fall conventions over the years has transformed dots on a map to memories of places that enhance my story telling process.

Ryan Denham

I recently attended my first INBA conference—and it won’t be my last. The combination of professional and student journalists learning together is electric. Everyone learns from each other and walks away with new friends (and LinkedIn connections). I know I did.

Andrew Tanielian

INBA taught me how to network in a meaningful way. The scholarship process taught me how to endure a hard job interview and thrive.

Nora Baldner

The support INBA gives to student journalists is vitally important as we all discover how technology is changing news dissemination, INBA monitors and actively encourages truth, transparency and accountability from students and their universities.

Bob Roberts

INBA is as much about friendship and as it is about achieving common goals. It provides two things individual newsrooms cannot: in-service training, and the ability to speak out on issues affecting the profession. But most of all, it brings newspeople together.

Alexis McAdams

INBA played a huge part in preparing me for my broadcasting career. The INBA conventions connect students with on-air talent and news directors who give feedback on now to improve your work. Through relationships I made at those conventions, I was able to obtain my first on air reporting job.

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