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Marianne Paskowski



In Memory of John M. Higgins

November 21, 2006 2:50 PM

I got the bad news this morning that my friend and long time colleague B&C’s buiness editor John M, Higgins had just died, felled by a massive heart attack. Higgins was one of those people who was simply bigger than life and under that gruff exterior was the heart of a gentle lion.

Knowing him for 16 years, I found him to be a complex human being. His language on phone calls to sources was so gruff that when he worked for me at Multichannel News, I established a cuss can in the news room. Uttering the f--- word resulted in a 25 cent fee. One day Higgins just crammed a $10 bill in the can, glowering at me, saying that should cover him for awhile.

Higgins, 45, was also a consummate gentleman, always opening doors for women or hailing cabs for them, or escorting them back to their hotels after late evening functions. Actually, he was the kind of guy you would want to be in a fox hole with, knowing that he would look out after your welfare as well as his own hide.

I was broken hearted when he resigned from Multichannel News to take the job at B&C. With his usual aplomb, he gave me a dozen long-stemmed black roses on his last day. However we remained friends over the years and I always respected his finely honed journalistic skills. I loved reporting a story with him, me being good cop, him, obviously bad cop.

Higgins also had a macabre sense of humor. When his own mother passed on several years ago, he showed me a sympathy card that someone had hastily sent, expressing condolences for the death of a pet rather than his mother. The card cracked him up.

Cable industry executives feared a call from Higgins. One cable executive said getting a call from Higgins was like getting a call from “60 Minutes.” Yes, he was tough, but fair and always right on the mark.

Today, is indeed a day of collective mourning for our friend Higgins. I’ve been on the phone all day with his numerous friends now in mourning, all sharing stories about our strong-willed friend. And if you want to share yours, I invite you to comment here and give our pal the strong sendoff he deserves.

He would expect nothing less. He loved being the center of attention, and we loved him for being such a true friend.

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Comments (34)

Daisy Whitney:

I was especially touched when you talked about what a gentleman he was. That's what I remember most. After a a press dinner and drinks event two years ago at NCTA, I remember John so kindly insisting on walking me back to my hotel. Always a gentleman, always sweet and kind and considerate. He is sorely missed.

Daisy

Jim Dickson:

John had a wicked sense of humor and a great sense of honor for his profession. He will be missed.

Jim

jayne wallace:

ohmigosh, just saw this and had dinner with john not too long ago. of course, everything you write is true. he was also the pinnacle of integrity as a journalist, rarely letting me the PR person pick up the check. We had a great relationship and I'm proud that I felt I was able to help him at time as often as he helped me. How sad and such a loss.

Ron Alridge:

Count me among the many one-time competitors who took a stab at hiring John Higgins only to have him opt to stay with his exisiting publication. John was dedicated not only to his work but also to his employer. I wish I had known him better. I am sure I would have liked him as much up close and personal as I respected him from afar.

douglas Holloway:

John will be sorely missed. He was tough as nails on the outside and a creampuff inside, well maybe not a creampuff-but he like them anyway. He was always hunting down the scoop and had a nose for the real story. I will miss him in his John Belushi blue suit and white shirt lumbering the convention floors hunting down the stories we all so desperately waited to read.

Melissa Grego:

Well put, Marianne. I worked with Higgins for a short time at B&C. In our first interactions, I was immediately impressed by how he managed to be so authoritative, feared and tough, all while being so graceful in many ways.
It was always a highlight to run into him out and about as well as an inspiration to witness his great gets as a colleague and competitor. He really was a great journalists' journalist and truly good, warm person. Like you and Daisy said, such a gentleman.
Sad day today.
Melissa.

He answered the phone "Higgins" with a no-nonsense, don't-waste-my-time attitude to his voice. He got the "gets" nobody else did. He had direct access to everyone (which made my job all the harder) and asked questions that put fear in many a company. But God he was smart, and he was fair, and there wasn't anyone better. A truly great guy - lots of memories over the 17 years I knew him. I'm going to play his many punk-laced Christmas music compilation tapes and CDs in his honor this season. And I'll crank up the volume.

Decker Anstrom:

John - like so many cable entrepreneurs he covered over the course of his career - was a true original, and as others have said, he was absolutely the best in his trade. Smart, persistent, thorough, amazingly well connected, he did manage to make many of us uncomfortable when we learned "Higgins" had called. But he was always fair and accurate, and you could trust him completely. I always learned something from a Higgins piece and I willl miss him a great deal.

My goodness.
Coincidentally, John and I shared an interest in a New York music radio show and a related Digest. He seemed to also like many obscure record shops in downtown Manhattan.
But, I will always remember his review of my performance at the 1995 CTAM Summit in San Francisco where I played the xylophone to move attendees. His review was scathing and I loved him for it.
STEVE GOLDMINTZ

John will be missed a lot. He was smart and wise about the cable industry and the people who make it so successful and interesting to be a part of. His instincts and ability to analyze and articulate the key issues facing us made him such an important and valuable part of this great industry. He will be missed by the many people he has touched over the years....Bill Simon

Lee Hall:

As wiith the 'great Oz,' there was so much to the Higgins mystique behind the curtain.
Though outwardly the curmudgeon, he was such a cool guy once you got to know him. Funny, full of great stories and always a pleasure to be around. Competing against Higgins was like playing the top-ranked team every week. He kept all of us on our toes. Godspeed, Mr. Higgins!

Ellen Cooper:

Marianne-
Thanks for perfectly capturing Higgins' character for us. Through all the verbal parrying I did with Higgins -- a nearly impossible task -- in the end it is his big hearted humanity that remains with me. I spoke to him just yesterday afternoon. He was digging up a story in typical fashion, stating that there is no market for HD networks as if it was a foregone conclusion, leaving me to have to prove the case for my client. But what I'll remember most about our last conversation, was the personal fondness that I could hear in his voice..and his voice itself. An assistant asked me if it had been a "good conversation." And I have to admit it was very good. It was vintage Higgins.

It keeps ringing in my ears, his robust voice that conveyed so much, HIGGINS!!!, he'd answer. Multilayered and complex.

He'll be sorely missed, beyond all these words we write.
Rest in Peace, Higgins.
Ellen

Rich Cronin:

I was so sad to get the news about Higgins! I always loved hanging with him at industry events because he had such a dark sense of humor. We had so many laughs together! When he was first in the hospital for his initial heart problems I sent him Operation, the board game, as a get well gag gift, and he was really touched by the outpouring of affection from so many people in our business... I don't think he realized until he got sick how many friends and fans he had.

Cable events just won't be the same without him.

Rich

Seth Morrison:

This is indeed a sad day for our industry and for me personally. You've all said it so well -- John was a rare individual who made tremendous contributions to our understanding of oour business. He will be missed.

Lou Borrelli:

Right about now, Peter Barton is telling Higgins he can finally take up extreme skiing. As they are about to jump the headwall, I can hear Higgins asking for a quote on Liberty's interest in DirecTV for future publication....Higgins is gone - it sucks to be us today.

Char Beales:

Marianne -- you knew and captured Hiigins's spirit so well. I love reading these posts and seeing that so many saw right through the big, gruff and scary persona. John was an amazing person, phenomenal journalist and gifted student of the business. I echo the comments about his class and care for others. Just a year ago, John was bumped from his Summit hotel in Philly and had to head to another abode at 3 am-ish. He was accosted on the street, but pulled out his Hoboken knife and the attacker disappeared. -- so John! He told me the story -- but no one else because he didn't want anyone to think badly of CTAM. A small gesture, but yet another example of John's big heart.

I can't imagine cable without John.

Char

Lynette Fine:

Just recently I was able to share another event/dinner with John! As usual he made the evening interesting, since he knew where all the bones were buried. I will never forget that grin, and will miss him very much. All my sympathy to his lovely wife, and family.

Marianne,

I know that several industry folk are rallying together to set up some sort of memorial/scholarship/rememberance in Higgins' name. Higgins would be touched, of course, but wouldn't he have appreciated something more in keeping with his contrarian and fun-loving spirit?

Perhaps journalists and cable execs should gather yearly around this time in a fine eating and drinking establishment (Higgins would have loved that). The dress code would be strict--those in attendance must sport black suits and white shirts (women, too). Needless to say, glasses would be required to be filled throughout.

After a musical interlude appropriate to Higgins' questionable taste in tunes, the execs would have to get up and tell of the most harrowing moments in their confrontations with Higgins, letting it all go, foul language be damned! In a whack at your cuss jar, Marianne, one that would make Higgins roar, the exec whose story was the least, ahem, colorful, would have to make a sizeable donation to a charity in John's name.

This bawdy but beautiful night would be a perfect way to honor Higgins' legacy. OK, cable execs, who's first?

Janet Stilson:

My fondest memory of John is of a trip we shared to visit an MSO called Cablevision Industries up in the Catskills. We were jointly writing a profile of the company for Multichannel News, and as I had recently joined the staff, we didn't know each other very well at all.

I think what tickled us both was that John's style of asking questions and my own were so different. It was as if we were surveying a big red barn by tracking it from opposite directions. But in the end we were a bit tickled to have discovered a new respect for each other. And we were reminded that gentle probing and direct "hits" each have their merits -- even though we would not have traded our ways. (Do I need mention who employed the direct hits?)

Like Marianne and Daisy, I was always taken with John's gentlemanly ways. To me, he was like a walrus who has a soft respect for tiny birds.

My heart goes out to John's wife.

-- Janet Stilson

Jim Weiss:

Dedicated. That word keeps coming back to me as I face the impossible task of summing up in words one John Higgins. He was so dedicated to his work, to the reporter's life, to researching his story, to working his sources, dedicated to his passions like music, fine dining, dedicated to helping others, dedicated to his wife. And if you were lucky enough to call him friend, you had his immensely deep dedication. Tenacity, another word that comes to mind...the tough, 'did-he-just-ask-that' but dead-on questions, his tireless pursuit of getting the story right, the "can-you-believe-he's-writing-that" type of pieces. Really, who else could would even think about, much less write -- and nail -- a cover story several years back called "Are Cable Stocks Overvalued?" for a magazine called Broadcasting & Cable? Only one person could pull it off. We had our debates over the years....ratings, demos, affluency of audience vs. lower households, sensitive programmer-affiliate negotiations and all the rest. While I had my positions to convey, perhaps spin, Higgins was truly the "no-spin zone" --you dare not fly there. But once the work-related issues were aside and volleys were done, you were better off for the exercise. And Higgins would put the pen down, turn the recorder off and go right into asking "How's Life?" He loved to broker jobs for people, keeping tabs on positions and salaries like an executive recruiter. It was a way to help people, something that he did so much of, in his unique way. I simply -- and thankfully -- have too many Higgins stories, breakfasts, lunches, dinners, drinks, late nights, conversations and times to recall. But I will do just that as I think about him as the days go on. I feel so blessed to be part of such a big and important industry, yet one that, behind the curtain, has a such a small town, hometown feel....a place that so many of us have grown up in professionally. I am blessed that this profession brought me to John Higgins, brought Higgins to all of us. It feels like we lost a childhood friend from home. I'll miss the debates, I'll miss the scoop, I'll miss the inside skinny, I'll miss the job insight and I'll miss his writing. I already miss the man. The industry has lost one of its best-ever journalists. More importantly, I have lost a good friend and one of the most memorable characters in my life. The hometown just took a big hit.

Look at that, I buried the lead. Higgins wouldn't approve.

Lou Borrelli:

Seth....you forgot the earplugs that would be required to survive the decibel level of the band... I am in! And not just because black is slimming. Cash, my friends - bring cash and have a great time to honor a great guy....

Jean Grillo:

Dear Marianne,

As a freelancer these last few years I only got to see Higgins at large public events, but you captured his reluctant graciousness: he wanted to be respected and feared but just couldn't hide the fact he was nice. Most really good journalists are good because they truly care. Higgins cared.

Joe Boyle:

Tom Umstead broke the tragic news to me yesterday morning that John had died. A day later and I sill feel an emptiness in the pit of my stomach over the loss of John and a part of myself. Like everyone else on these pages who have shared their fond memories of John, I too had many over the long years I had known him. We shared a bond that began the day I hired him in 1989 as finance editor of Multichannel News. We did not have to talk much over the long years that have passed to maintain that bond, and many months indeed went by without a conversation. Yet there was always that bond between us right up until last month when I spent some time with him in Denver at the Cable Center. Although we all have lost a part of ourselves with the passing of John Higgins, I for one am truly proud to have known him, to have hired him and to have worked with him. The response to his death reinforces that many feel as I do because of the individual bonds each has shared with this great man, who like so many other great men of our time were taken away from us much too soon.

Craig Leddy:

When I worked at Cablevision magazine and Higgins was at Multichannel News, we'd always ask, "What does Higgins think?" (As all of you know, Higgins' stature made him worthy of a one-word name.) I admired the way he worked tirelessly to break stories, dig up the facts and uncover the truth. He asked the tough questions and challenged the answers he received. If conventional wisdom said the correct answer was A, he'd tell you why the answer really was B, and he'd have the facts and analysis to back it up. Sometimes I even agreed with his taste in music...sometimes.

The example set by Higgins forced me, other colleagues and competitors to become better journalists. As a result, the industry benefited from a greater wealth of information and deeper analysis. The untimely removal of his insight and camaraderie, not to mention the sight of Higgins in his rumpled sports coat, is a real loss for the industry. But hopefully his journalistic legacy will live on and we'll all be better for it.

Barry Orton:

When Higgins moved to Hoboken, it was my duty and honor to explain the import of Springsteen on the Garden State ethic. He resisted, but I think I wore him down. I was a longtime source and he was my longtime true north compass to the industry. I miss him already; he was the smartest person in my address book.

Jim Forkan:

Hi Marianne
I'm a little behind on the news. When I read the sad news about Higgins Tuesday evening, my jaw dropped.
It was also deja vu all over again, bringing to mind the sudden passing several years back of another great guy and great journalist, Rich Katz.
With Higgins, we got a scare once before, when he collapsed, at a Nickelodeon upfront breakfast, if memory serves. And when he left Multi for B&C, as you pointed out in your blog, that too was sad and a shock to the system. But this time it's far worse since there's such a finality to it.
He was a heavy smoker and his work station reminded me of the computer geek's messy work station in Jurassic Park. And he was B&C and Multi's "man in black." But when I think of Higgins, what I remember most is a consummate professional, a dogged reporter and his brash personality.
Once while at a cable convention, a group of us went out to dinner, a mixture of reporters like Higgins and myself and some Lifetime officials. Higgins got the conversation going by asking that each of us talk about our first concert. Mine was Elvis, circa 1972. Higgins got a kick out of that -- though that definitely wasn't his musical taste!
In 2003, when I was downsized suddenly by Multi, Higgins asked me if I'd updated my resume. I said not yet, and he said, "I always keep my resume updated!" Not that he had to worry. He was such a great reporter, no one would put him on any endangered list.
Man, I sure hope they have a good magazine for Higgins and Katz to work on up there...
Jim

Marianne Paskowski:

I don't want to interrupt anyone's fond memories of Higgins here. But I am. I have to set the record straight. John M. Higgins did not have a single cigarette since his marriage in 2000. I was at his wedding, he was wearing a nicotine patch and could barely remember his name, when the 'I do Higgins", vow came up. But he kicked the butt and continued to kick ass with his reporting.

Paul Rodriguez:

What always cracked me up is that his fearsome aggressive attitude was such a part of him, that it was on display almost all the time, even when it wasn't intentional On many occasions, I could see somebody recoiling from what they perceived as an attack, while John was oblivious to his effect. And yet, for someone who seemed to despise sentimentality, he was an incredibly sentimental person. He either loved you or had little time for you – and if he loved you, he'd do anything for you.

Andy Grossman:

Higgins -- he was never "John" to me -- brought so much more to our newsroom than his outstanding abilities as a reporter. He was "old school" in the best sense, right out of "The Front Page," except he was a decent person. More than "decent," he was one of the nicest people you would ever meet. He brought electricity to the newsroom and kept people in stitches along the way. Simply, Higgins was a very funny guy who kept everyone loose.
So many things I can remember him doing for other people -- helping Jane Greenstein paint her apartment. Or helping someone move. In the oiffice no matter how backed up he was in his work, Higgins was never too busy to drop everything and lend a hand if you needed one. (Usually a computer problem of some sort since he was the only person in the newsroom who knew anything about computers and/or the Internet in the early and mid '90s.)
Having Higgins around was like having another editor in the newsroom. He read everything he could get his hands on and knew more about other people's beats than they did. He could talk to anyone about almost anything (except sports) and usually saw the contrarian side in a clear light. Interactive TV? Hype, Higgins pronounced in Multichannel News in the late 90s and he was proved right. And there were so many others.
Of course it wasn't all work and no play around Higgins. I remember a New Orleans conference when I finally thought I had out-hipped him. A friend of mine told me about a bar in the far, far corner of the Quarter: Laffit something or other. Finally, I knew a hipper place than Higgins! You know what happens, right. I'm bragging to my dinner companion about a great "unknown" spot I've found, walk in there around midngiht and who's sitting there --- DAMN HIGGINS!
Professionally, Higgins did more than break stories, tho. He CRAVED stories, the more the better. Of course that didn't always make him a lot of friends on the news desk when he had five stories to write on deadline. But when they came in they were always sharp, focused and on target. just a pleasure to read (except for the spelling. Higgins always did admit he was a lousy speller.)
Other things I remember about him:
-- The only Notre Dame alum who hated football.
-- His "Bullshit detector" that filtered out the crap fed to reporters daily. .
-- How he put Multi on a little gopher hole in the early Wild West days of the Internet long before most other publications. (There was a very very funny meeting between the editors and the sales dept about the Internet in the mid 90s ...)
-- How he could read a 10-K like no one else, finding gold in the smallest footnotes.
-- His great love for music, and how he would blast some obscure band on h is boombox afterhours. He was always ahead of the curve with now-famous bands like "Barenaked Ladies."
John Higgins was a complicated guy -- he could drive you crazy one second and leave you on the floor laughing in the next. But he wasn't around, you missed him.

John, I miss you -- and wherever you are, make sure you hold onto that bullshit detector.

.

Michael Gray:

I am saddened to hear of John's death. He and I spent much time on the sidewalks of 12th street and 7th avenue having a smoke and discussing a wide range of topics. John could make you think differently on a topic just with his view, which seemed to run contary to what the conventional wisdom was. I always remember the blast we had at the Celtic Channel party at one of the cable shows back in the 90's

Betsy Frank:

When I heard about John’s passing, I felt incredibly sad, since it felt as if a truly unique individual had left us.

My last conversation with him was a couple of months ago. In an article about MTV Networks, which I was reading online one Sunday night, he referenced me in a way that was, let’s just say, not accurate. I immediately sent him a long, probably rambling e-mail, and when I got in to the office on Monday morning there was already a voice mail from him—Horrified, apologetic, and within moments, the online copy had been corrected. He called again later that day to tell me in person how sorry he was.

I’ve spoken with a lot of reporters in my career at Saatchi, MTV Networks, and Time Inc. Some were smart. Some were intellectually curious. And some also had a heart. John was all three, and he will be missed.

Eric:

John Higgins was the Lester Bangs of contemporary trade journalism. He knew his stuff, lived large and well and never compromised. I was fortunate enough to share some time with him in some of the best venues in the U.S.--Los Angeles, New Orleans, Washington, D.C. John and I were trade reporters and he made me look like a hack--an amateur. He could have worked for any major publication in the world. He was that good. One of the many regrets I have is not being able to spend more time with him and study under his tutelage (even though he was only three years older than me, he was at least 20 years ahead of me in experience). I will miss him.

Eric Glick

If feel embarrassed that I failed to post something sooner; I think I messed up on hitting the send button, an e-inadequacy for which John would have visciously skewered me before kindly showing me how not to do it again. I believe i could say I was there at the creation of the journalist he became. I knew John when he was 17. We lived in a residence hall at Notre Dame in 1979, and i was several years older, a news editor, then managing editor for the daily Observer. I would return home at 2, 3 4 a.m. and there was young John, waiting full of questions about my night at the paper, clearly more exciting than his calculus. I on the other hand, although smitten by his wit and dark humor, was just plane tired, and finally set about on a grand strategy to avoid this nightly harangue: why not just come up with me, I suggested, to become part of the Observer, get some experience reporting, see what its like? An addiction was immediatley born. We suddenly traded our former night stories for conversations of journalist ethics, reporting strategies and methods to sharpen paragaphs and finely-hone sentences. He went on to apply himself with a passion and consistency rarely seen in modern journalism, much less trade press today. I am in awe of his accomplishments, as I, by comparison, had to finally slip out of journalism and, to my everlasting shame, enter the field of law. If you think I, the mentor, didn't tremble when I got the call on the subject from "HIGGINS!" you never answered such a call. I will explain my decision in another life with you, John; just rest assured that these comments really show you at you best light, and most of all....just rest peacefully.....Mark Rust

Marianne Paskowski:

Many thanks to all of you who shared postings about our collective loss of John Higgins. I learned a lot more about him, thanks to you. Especially so to Mark Rust for sharing his story about knowing Higgins since he was 17. And a postscript: there's an industry wide memorial to Higgins in the making, tentative date is Dec. 12, New York, locale TBD. If any of you know more about this than I do, please let us all know, via this space. Warm thoughts to all.

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