Culture » Source Spotlight

Bruce Cummings

A world-class TV news producer enjoying retirement in Bend

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"I like when people can see a range of things and they can pick and choose what they read. They are not just being fitted with a set of blinders."

It's no secret that Bend tends to be a magnet for world-class athletes looking for a sweet spot to rest or retire. That trend apparently applies to people in other lines of work, too. Example: Bruce Cummings, whose long career as a journalist and TV news producer had him working alongside the likes of Peter Jennings and Tim Russert.

Cummings and his wife Sandy moved to Bend after two long careers spent as producers for national news shows. Cummings worked for "NBC Nightly News" on both coasts. His wife worked for "Dateline" for 25 years, Cummings tells me.

As a former TV news producer myself, I decided having Cummings in for a Spotlight interview would be a good way to get to know someone from whom I could learn something. I did.

The first thing I wanted to know: Whether every journalist should spend part of their career in Washington, D.C.—the seat of so much drama and decision-making (no matter who's in the White House). After all, being in D.C. worked out pretty well for Cummings, who spent 19 years there, most recently as senior producer for "NBC Nightly News."

"I think every journalist, if possible, should visit Washington and see her or his members of Congress and senators, and see, as they say, their natural habitat. And observe Congress," Cummings said. "I do think today, coverage of city halls and state government is every bit as critical as our national government," he added. Noted. Right after this interview, I made a point to add a visit to Salem, Ore., to my calendar.

And like the way the pro skiers in Bend bro out about the next big thing on their professional horizons, Cummings and I also had to bro out about the state of media and the influence of social media on "little" things, such as elections.

"I worry a lot about the social media filter bubbles—call them what you want, silos, or whatever," Cummings lamented. I responded by saying that's exactly why print journalism still matters. With a print version of a publication, readers get to page through the whole thing to learn and understand what they might be missing on account of targeted Facebook algorithms, I said.

"I agree with you," Cummings said. "I like when people can see a range of things and they can pick and choose what they read. They are not just being fitted with a set of blinders.

"It's encouraging to see—all this talk about The New York Times and the end of classified ads and blah... the fact of the matter is, particularly since the last election, is digital subscriptions of The New York Times have skyrocketed.

"Even things like our (daily) paper here. Yes, they have the editorial page, but they do offer a range of opinions on their pages. Whereas, I don't see anything on Facebook from someone that makes me think, 'Oh my god. That is the dumbest thing I have ever heard in my life.'"

While he's borne witness to a breadth of changes across the media landscape over the years, Cummings came to his career through, of all things, a love of jazz. Born in Chicago, Cummings and his family moved around a lot for his father's career, ending up in Washington, D.C., where Cummings studied philosophy and classical languages at Catholic University of America. He thought he'd be a teacher but says what he really wanted to do was be on the radio, playing jazz records.

"My ambitions were limited, but that is what I really wanted to do," Cummings chuckled. "I ended up on the radio and started in the 500-watt station, making $65 bucks a week and all that stuff... And you move as quickly as you can up the market size and everything, and I ended up in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania."

That radio station also had a TV operation and a news department, where the general manager and the news director were constantly butting heads, the news director continually resigning and coming back, Cumming says. One day, the news director didn't come back, and the job fell to Cummings—who at that point, he says, had no interest in news. Still, the pay was better than the DJ gig, so Cummings was in.

"The next day I went into his (the manager's) office, Monday, and I was the news director and luckily—because I was in central Pennsylvania and virtually the entire newsroom crew, men and women, were these bright, calm, smart, patient Mennonite kids from Elizabethtown and Kutztown—they saved me, day in and day out, and I learned."

From there, Cummings worked in Jacksonville, Fla., before being hired as a producer on "AM America," with Peter Jennings, the predecessor program to "Good Morning, America." Cummings eventually found his way to NBC.

After working as producer and then senior producer for "NBC Nightly News" in Washington, D.C., for nearly two decades, he moved to the Los Angeles bureau of the show for another 10 years—a West Coast move that put him closer to his eventual retirement home in Bend. And that's how we ended up here, bro'ing out about journalism.


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