Journalist John Higgins Dies: A Remembrance

Nov 21, 2006  •  Post A Comment

By Chuck Ross

My friend John Higgins has died of a heart attack at the much too young age of 45, and, like most who knew John, I am devastated.

John was the business editor at Broadcasting & Cable.

He was one of the two or three best journalists I’ve ever known and, hands-down, the best reporter to cover the cable TV industry. Ever. No one came close, and no one ever will.

Here’s why: When John joined Multichannel News in 1989, covering, primarily, the cable TV financial beat, it was during cable’s growth period. The boom-boom years. Back then cable was in about 50 million homes and there were about 75 national cable TV networks. Today it’s a much more mature, consolidated industry.

John would probe and dissect cable deals and cable executives like no one ever had before.

I was a reporter at a competing publication at the time, Inside Media, that published every other week. So, almost by necessity our styles were completely different, and we were wildly competitive with each other. Trying to get scoops that would hold for publication, I’d huddle with executives privately and quietly ask my questions.

But John, working for the highest-profile cable publication at the time, which was also a weekly, would just shout out his questions during the most public press conferences. And he did what the best journalists have always done: ask the most penetrating, get-to-the-heart-of-the-matter question in the room.

Because of John’s candor and frankness, I’ve known more than one top cable TV executive who would curse him under their breath. But they all knew he was the best, and they knew if the byline read John Higgins that the story would be smart, well-researched and right on the money. More-and better-than any of us other reporters, John followed the money and knew the right questions to ask.

Once I got into a position where I was hiring a staff myself, I tried to hire John. More than once. But he was loyal to Multichannel and then to B&C.

Besides his incredible reporting chops, the other reason I wanted to hire John was because he was such a great guy. His exterior could be grouchy, but he was a mensch. He would mentor other, less experienced reporters and he always had concern about others.

And he had a great, dark sense of humor.

Soon after John had had his first heart attack some years back, and I had had a bout with flesh-eating disease, we saw one another. I implored him to lose some weight. He said that I should talk, that at least he didn’t have some gross bacteria that had attacked him.

Right after I learned that John had died last night, I heard that film director Robert Altman also just passed away. Many will mourn Altman; comparatively, relatively few of us will mourn Higgins.

I didn’t know Altman, but it seems to me that both men will leave similar legacies. Both were iconoclastic and independent as all get out. Neither followed the conventional wisdom of the day. And by being iconoclastic and independent, their work cut to the heart of the matter.

And it’s why losing them breaks our hearts.

Chuck Ross is the publisher and editorial director of TelevisionWeek.

Columnist Marianne Paskowski, who worked with John Higgins for many years, has written a remembrance of him at her blog on this site.