REMEMBERING HIGGINS: Letters, comments and stories about B&C business reporter John M. Higgins. To send your own comments, e-mail email@example.com.
John M Higgins, longtime journalist and business editor of Broadcasting &Cable Magazine, died November 20, 2006 of a heart attack in a hospital in New Jersey. He was 45.
Higgins, who joined B&C in 1997 after working at Multichannel News, was known as a talented and tough-as-nails reporter. He was renowned in the media industry he covered for his knowledge of the business and for his tenacity.
“They broke the mold with John Higgins,” said Mark Robichaux, executive editor at B&C. “He was a great reporter and an even better friend. I’ll miss him.”
“He was bigger than life," said publisher Larry Oliver. “Anyone who met John Higgins always had a story about him.”
But beneath his tough exterior, Higgins was a gentle soul with a rapier wit who nurtured young reporters and served meals to the emergency workers after 9/11.
“He knew everything and knew everybody,” says PJ Bednarski, executive editor. “And if he didn’t, he would in 10 minutes. He drove us crazy, and he made this magazine great.”
Higgins was almost universally liked and respected by the executives he covered. "He was a warm guy and very smart underneath the journalist's skeptical exterior," said Jeff Bewkes, president and COO of Time Warner. "We will miss him. He got a lot of things right and was decent about what he covered, even the bad things."
"I thought he was a terrific journalist," said former FCC Chairman Richard Wiley, one of Washington's mostly highly respected and influential attorneys. "There was a certain edge to his writing that was appropriate. He got right to the point. He was a keen analyst and I will really miss reading his material. I'm shocked and saddened by his passing." Max Robins, B&C editor in chief, said that one of the attractions of joining B&C was Higgins’ reputation. His stories and scoops often bested not only the trade competition but major papers such as The New York Times and Wall Street Journal. "John Higgins was the heart and soul" of Broadcasting & Cable, said Robins. “It was a privilege working with him.”
Higgins is survived by his wife, Deborah Marrone, an attorney with the Federal Trade Commission.
A funeral mass for John M. Higgins was held for family and close friends at St. Peter and Paul Catholic Church, 404 Hudson St., Hoboken, New Jersey, on Saturday, Nov.25, at 12:00 p.m. and a traditional Irish wake was held after the service at Amanda's in Hoboken.
CURRENT AND FORMER STAFF TRIBUTES
When I took the reins at Broadcasting & Cable nearly three years ago, I hadn't been on the job four days when John Higgins saved my newbie-editor-in-chief ass. I recall that now as we mourn the loss of Higgins—always Higgins—our dear friend and business editor, who died of a heart attack last week at 45.
Comcast had made a hostile bid to buy the Walt Disney Co. Higgins was so wired into the deal that top Comcast executives were calling him from their corporate jets as they crisscrossed the country to rally support from the investment community.
Higgins sensed, even before those at Comcast ultimately would, that the gambit would fail, and his prescient story that graced the cover of my first issue made us all look very smart. It was the first of many times.
I knew of Higgins long before we came to be colleagues at B&C, where he predated me by seven years. He was the utterly fearless guy who would ask anybody the tough questions, no matter how lofty their title—anytime, anyplace.
He was the guy who'd gleefully uncovered corporate malfeasance at FNN, the precursor to CNBC. The guy who asked Barry Diller, during an investor conference call, where he and fiancée Diane Von Furstenberg were registered. ("Florida!" Diller barked back.)
Powerful CEOs visibly tensed up when they saw Higgins coming at them, wearing his trademark uniform: black blazer, black jeans, black sneakers and white oxford shirt. He once asked ABC News President David Westin if he thought Diane Sawyer had been "passive aggressive" in her unsuccessful play for the World News anchor job. I didn't have to prod him to ask Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes if he actually believed Hannity & Colmes was a fair fight.
Higgins both loved and loathed the spotlight. Along with B&C Executive Editor Mark Robichaux, a longtime friend of his, I cajoled him for nearly a year before he agreed to write the column that would become "Money Talks."
He was contemptuous of most pundits and didn't want to be one more guy who "just gassed." But we knew we weren't the only ones who prized Higgins' sage wisdom. Top media analysts routinely joked that Higgins would put them out of work if he ever decided to cross over from journalism.
The night before Higgins died, he and I were supposed to meet for a post-party after the International Emmys. I was too tired and called him on his cell to tell him I couldn't make it. "C'mon, I need a wing man," he said. "You don't need me to protect you," I said. "That party is always a target-rich environment; you'll have a great time."
Just as well, he said: "I always drink more when I'm with you." We laughed, and I asked him about his column for this week's issue. Late, as usual. "It'll sail through," he assured me. "Just like last week's. See you bright and early."
Few reporters I know have the chops—or the charm—to get away with that kind of cockiness and contempt for deadlines. Driven to exasperation, I once told him, "I have better luck getting my kids to listen to me!" Higgins just flashed that devilishly cherubic smile and said, "Your kids have to love you. I don't." My 11-year-old son, Jack, loves to tell that story. (C'mon, John. You did, though, didn't you? Just a little?)
Higgins was a true partner in running this magazine and upholding its mission. Only two weeks ago, we were camped in my office, working the phones to nail down who would be the new CEO of Discovery. When we determined that it was David Zaslav, Higgins beamed and said, "You and I have the most fun of anybody here. We're out there. We get to write. We're in the mix."
It won't be nearly as fun without Higgins. He was a guide and guardian to us all at B&C. Truly irreplaceable. Truly loved. So deeply missed.
J. Max Robins
Editor In Chief
Broadcasting & Cable
John Higgins was a dogged reporter and a treasured friend who constantly surprised me. From my first meeting with Higgins—a breakfast interview at Cafeteria where he challenged me to explain why my master’s in journalism was worth the time and money and asked me why I watched so much TV—I liked and respected him and was in awe of his drive and dedication to his job.
Higgins taught me to read Nielsen ratings and pore through an SEC filing. He could instantly recall deal points on 10-year-old acquisitions and recite industry executives’ résumés, along with their e-mail and cell numbers.
I called him my encyclopedia of the TV industry. He encouraged me to write stories that I cared about and to break down any barriers that stood in the way of getting to the news. He explained things to me even better than he layed them out in his columns, which I consider the ultimate compliment for such a fine journalist.
Higgins was also a caring and loyal friend who loved to indulge my whims. “What Allison wants, Allison gets,” he would say. He always let me pick our lunch destination and drag him to shoe stores and sample sales. The only TV show we both liked was Lost, but he would listen to me drone on about my favorites, from The O.C. to Grey’s Anatomy, even if he couldn't stand them.
In my tenure with B&C, I’ve often asked others to name their mentors and cite their influence in their lives. Higgins was clearly mine. I will miss his company, his guidance and keen intellect. Most important, I will miss his friendship.
For the holidays last year, Higgins gave me a necklace. It was beautiful pink crystal and long, because he knew that’s how I liked them. “It’s nice,” I thought. “I’ll wear it when I wear pink.” And I did – once, twice. I don’t wear pink that often. Months later, my sister and I were at the designers market where Higgins bought the necklace. I showed my sister a similar one, and the woman selling them instantly looked up. “You said your friend bought you one in that color,” she asked. I nodded. “Mustache? Glasses? Black jeans and jacket?” Yep, that was Higgins. “Well, you should know, you have a friend who really cares about you,” she said. She went on to explain that Higgins had painstakingly sorted through each and every one of her racks of necklaces for at least 20 minutes, describing me and my personality and asking her whether she thought I’d like what he bought. That was typical Higgins: generous, thoughtful, looking out for his friends.
Higgins looked out for me for my entire two-plus years at B&C, both in my professional and personal life. He went out of his way to pass on his supreme knowledge of both our craft and the industry we cover. In fact, after nearly 10 years with B&C, he was more than entitled to an office, but he preferred cubicle life for its promise of constant proximity to his fellow reporters. Countless times, Higgins would stop his own work to simplify a ratings spreadsheet for me, patiently explain a complex business practice or sharpen my copy. If he had a lunch with a source I didn’t know, he’d take me. An interview I was nervous for, he’d prep me. A conference I’d never attended, he’d book us seats together on the plane so we could gossip over celebrity glossies and, once there, he’d proudly take me around at cocktail parties introducing me to everyone he knew – and he knew everyone.
Before I even signed my contract at B&C, Higgins was looking out for me. I hadn’t even started the job, and he took me to lunch. He stared me straight in the eye with his most serious “Higgins” face—the one he’d put on when he knew a publicist was trying to spin him or an executive dodging his question—narrowing his eyes into slits behind those ever-present ’80s-style square glasses. “I don’t know what they’re offering you, but it’s not enough,” he said. “Trust me. You deserve more.”
John Higgins deserved more. As young as 45 sounds, Higgins was so energized about life and what he covered, so up on trends (if prompted, he could easily rattle off this fall’s hottest nail polish color, jeans designer and yet-to-break music acts), that he seemed much younger than he was. It’s numbing to me still that that energy won’t be there anymore.
Higgins often said he’d rather be the oldest guy in a room of young people than the other way around, and he was always up for dinner or drinks at whatever the restaurant of the moment was. In fact, it was he who most often let the rest of us know where the cool places were. To Higgins, as he reminded us before prepping for the myriad industry events he never tired of covering, life was “all about the schmooze.”
Endlessly amused by our weekend text-message exchanges, Higgins was always curious about whatever bogus date I’d been on or whatever overpriced shoes I was running around the city to get. And it wasn’t just me he so cared for; friends and family of mine were friends of his. When my parents went to Montreal, Higgins sent them an annotated list of art galleries they had to visit; when my 23-year-old sister—with whom he became pen-pals after sneakily e-mailing her asking for my birthday—had boyfriend woes, he wanted to lend an ear. When friends—both in and outside of the industry—were job-hunting, Higgins hooked them up with interviews and spent hours on the phone conducting mock Q&As. After meeting one struggling writer friend of mine, he set up a Google news alert so he would know every time she had a byline and could send her a congratulatory note.
Never did I expect, when I took this job, that I would be blessed to work with someone like Higgins. Hard as it is to encapsulate his essence and energy in a short tribute, it’s even harder to imagine B&C and actually, my daily existence right now without him. I will miss him tremendously as a mentor, but much more so as a friend and a generous, kind spirit unlike any other.
You know, Higgins, all the nice things people are saying about you now that you're dead are the same things they were saying when you were alive. I loved you. Even when I screamed at you. We work hard here. I left at 9 p.m. Monday and thought as I walked out of the office , maybe Higgins is still here. You weren't. I woke up Tuesday morning and while getting ready for work, realized how much copy you owed me and how much you meant to B&C.
This isn't eloquent. At all. And at this point I don't care. I've read thousands of words today about you since your death, the best stories I've ever read about one single human being. I was so humbled. I was so instructed. I so wish I knew you and Debbie better. I kept reading about how you crashed through every deadline, and as I kept seeing that word—deadline—it took on a whole new meaning. This is the one time you got done way before you were supposed to. I don't know what to do about that.
There's no more space to save for Higgins. How I wish that wasn't so.
I’d heard the stories about John Higgins over the years, like the time on an investor conference call that he got laughs when he asked Barry Diller, following the announcement of his engagement to Diane von Fürstenberg, where he was registered (Diller’s one-word reply: “Florida”). Then I heard John’s slightly intimidating “Higgins” voice-mail greeting at work.
Finally, I got to spend some time with him after encountering him for years at various events.
Nothing came up in our first prolonged conversation about the business. We talked instead about our lives and all sorts of topics, and I came away from it with an entirely different view of a person who was extremely brilliant and urbane but also very caring.
Whenever I called John after that, no matter how busy he was, he always found the time to ask me how I was doing. It never came across as a platitude with John but rather as heartfelt, a rare trait in any human being.
John will be remembered for his stellar journalistic career, but I will always remember him for much more than just that.
Los Angeles Bureau Chief
Sitting next to Higgins in the B&C newsroom and listening to him work the phone, as I have for the past year, was always entertaining. He had close relationships with so many of his sources that it was sometimes hard to tell initially whether he was chatting with a friend or working on a story, but then the questions would start, and you could hear his enthusiasm grow as he picked up a juicy nugget of information. Some calls were a tad more combative, and those were fun to eavesdrop on as well.
But beneath his gruff exterior, Higgins was a gentleman, which is probably why many women counted him as a friend. He was genuinely interested to hear about your life outside of work, even if your interests were very different from his.
And of course, he was a very talented and dedicated reporter. Higgins was working on a story about the financial realities of HDTV in the past few weeks before he died, and it strikes me as particularly sad that all that great reporting never came to fruition. I’m sure that, like his other work, it would have been a must-read.
Fiercely, irascibly, irreplaceably independent, with a mind that put steel traps to shame and a heart that was bigger than his Rolodex.
John Higgins was simply the best financial reporter in our business. When he was sure he was right, which was often, he held a truer course to his journalistic compass than anyone I have ever known or expect to.
He could report the hell out or a story then write it so you understand it. As an editor, I was lucky his copy was usually “dirty” enough to need proofing, or the desk might have been out of a job.
And he told truth to power, regardless of the truth, irrespective of the power. He dug, pestered, staked out and spreadsheeted the facts out of complicated financial stories and prodded information out of tough media moguls trying their best to keep their own counsel.
Then he wrote it up dead straight, or in his columns, with an occasional eyebrow arched over a sardonic eye for the passing financial parade. But the laser Higgins trained on the industry became a fuzzy and warm nightlight for the rest of us when the deadline passed.
What a sweet man. I will treasure the Christmas CD’s he burned for me. “The Fruitcake Song” and “Christmas in the Drunktank” have become family favorites.
We talked almost daily for well over a decade, usually with me asking where his story was. He was unfailingly helpful to me personally and professionally, and the stories we worked on together were a treat.
John rarely made a deadline, and rarely turned in a story that wasn’t worth the wait.
Like all great reporters, he had a hard time putting down the phone long enough to write a story, so he would do both at the same time, then ignore frantic editors as he nailed down the last detail or the key confirmation.
I can still see him blowing into the press room at a convention, dropping his bag, parking his ample bulk into a small chair and, with the proclamation that “this is our lead story,” banging out the copy to back it up.
Washington Bureau Chief
Late Thursday-night deadlines will be much lonelier without him. I got to know him best when everyone else had left and we would talk at length about art, religion and politics. He always shocked me with how far his knowledge extended beyond the business world. I will always hold a special place in my heart for the man who taught me not only about work ethic but about how to live a fulfilling life in tandem. I will miss you, buddy.
It’s funny how you don’t know someone until you know someone. In my past life, I was a corporate communications executive with a major media company, one that went through one of those infamous accounting scandals.
And when the phone rang and you heard the word “Higgins,” you immediately sat up straight and thought, “Oh shit, what does he have now?” For all of us who know Higgins professionally, that needs no further explanation.
Then, about a year and a half ago, I joined the B&C staff in what was for all intents and purposes my first writing job—and my lack of experience did not sit well with everyone on staff, which I understood.
Higgins couldn’t have cared less. Within weeks, we co-hit on some great stories, and we were on the phone constantly from our coastal perches, exchanging rumors and leads. It was nice to have all that talent and drive on my team for once. And from day one, he made it very clear that I was on his team.
But the powerhouse that was Higgins was so much more. He was the pulse of B&C’s Manhattan office. From berating my poor choice in restaurants to his insistence on calling me “Benjie,” he was in prime Higgins-esque form when I was in town recently. While he and I would talk pretty much every day on the phone, I always knew I would be better at my job—and more important, have a lot more fun—if I could sit across from him every day and exchange an equal dose of rumors and barbs.
As I write this, I find myself thinking back to the Friday night before his passing, when he and I shared a drink with Max Robins and Mark Robichaux on my last night in town.
From the time we arrived to the time we left that night, Higgins salivated at some figures I had unearthed that he was going to use to make some network executives sweat, gave me a hard time for not staying an extra night so he could take me to some more places in New York I had never heard of, and told us defiantly why he would NEVER eat in the restaurant in which we were enjoying that last adult beverage.
Los Angeles Bureau Chief
Not only was Higgins a great reporter, he was a good man. If you had a question about pretty much anything, he was ready with an answer and a tip. When one of my parents became ill, he asked after her health on a daily basis and went above and beyond by helping find relevant health-care organizations. He is sorely missed.
Assistant Art Director
Higgins knew a ton of stuff about a ton of topics, and music was very definitely one of them. Without him, my iPod would be truly lame. There’d be no Arctic Monkeys. There’d be no Café Tacuba and Camera Obscura. There’d definitely be no Sri Lankan rapper chicks. It would just be filled with boring old white-guy rock.
Like Rob from High Fidelity, Higgins took tremendous pride in his music collection and was exceedingly generous about sharing it with friends. He was also exceedingly generous with restaurant recommendations (The Tasting Room in the East Village), concert suggestions (don’t see reunion tours, even the Pixies) and, of course, industry knowledge; a TV reporter once told me Higgins had forgotten more about the television industry than other reporters would ever know.
Higgins enriched my life as much as he enriched my iPod.
John Higgins, known to the world as simply Higgins, was a fierce and talented reporter—of that there is no question.
But here is what I like to remember about Higgins:
He always called his wife, Debbie, whom I had the pleasure to meet only once, “my lovely wife.” Always.
He did not, under any circumstances, let a woman:
Walk across a grate in the sidewalk
Slide across the seat of a cab
Open a door
Sulk too much unnecessarily
Put down her looks or
Leave the office feeling down.
I also like to remember: He would run around the office if there was a good story breaking. His password to Lexis Nexis was the name of a punk rock band. He was appalled I had never been to The Tasting Room. He always had his iPod on his person and his cellphone in his breast pocket. He liked mojitos.
If he sensed you were sad, he would ask you if you wanted to grab dinner—even if it meant schlepping all the way to Brooklyn.
He always sensed when you were sad. Or stressed. Or hiding something.
He always seemed to know when things were going disastrously awry—in work or life—and would pop his chin over the edge of your cubicle and say, “I don’t worry about you” in a way that made you stop worrying about you, too.
He was one of the most sincere people I have ever met.
We shared the same birthday.
He was kind. He was really, truly kind.
He took me out for coffee on my first day and gave me the lowdown on the job, the neighborhood and the best place to get a corn muffin. And he was right about everything.
He was one-of-a-kind, and he will be missed terribly by me—and by everyone who had the privilege to know him.
And my time to know him was far too short.
Deputy Editor, Online
I knew Higgins for 15 years, worked with him for the last six, and have the same kind of memories as his other friends and colleagues.
His thoughtfulness in little things. The receptionist in the Cap Cities office where we worked years ago told me once that Higgins never went out for a smoke without asking her whether she would like coffee, and bringing her some from the deli next door.
And in big things. He spent the night—the night, not the evening—serving meals to the workers at Ground Zero. And made it to work the next day.
He would have only the best. I particularly remember his telling me where he bought the freshest cut flowers.
He was satisfied with only the best in his work, too. As managing editor, I may have despaired of his meeting deadlines, but I always knew that what he said would be right—and right on. And I enjoyed laboring with him to find just the right words to make it the best. I will miss that.
I sat just a few cubicles away from Higgins and overheard many of his (very loud, very animated) conversations with sources and CEOs. I always noted how genuinely enthusiastic he seemed while reporting a story, how he truly appeared to relish every moment of it. More than a few of these conversations included obscenities and slammed phones, but even when he was mad, he always seemed to be having a good time.
And he always did have tidbits of valuable, non-work-related information to share. Just recently, he showed me and a co-worker what he believed was the best corner near our office to get a cab late-night hours. And, of course, he was right.
He would often stop by my desk after a frenzied day and say, “Hey, I haven’t said hi to you yet today! Just wanted to make sure you didn’t think I was ignoring you.”
I’m sorry he won’t be around to ignore me anymore.
When I met John Higgins, only a short year ago, two things were immediately clear: that he knew vastly more about the business of television than I could hope to learn in a lifetime and that he would never rub my face in it. I've never met a reporter who was more generous with his wisdom and less condescending when sharing it. And he could have so easily been otherwise. He could have made others feel small for lacking his expertise. But as others have pointed out, he was a nurturer and delighted in sharing his knowledge. I feel lucky to have had the chance to know him and work with him, even for only a short time. And I feel cheated that I didn't get the chance to know him more.
I didn’t work with Higgins for very long, only from the time he joined Broadcasting & Cable in 1997 until I left the magazine and its Washington headquarters at the end of 1998 and then for four months in 1999 when I was temporarily back. It was during that last short tour of duty that I got to know his personal side because I was working in the New York office and sitting just a few feet away from that wondrous, messy, black hole that was his cubicle.
When our relationship was conducted by phone, it consisted mainly of me wanting to know when he was going to have his story in—inevitably, the entire week’s issue would be made up except for the cable department because John was chasing down one more quote or fact. It always drove me crazy and we were often late to the printer, but on Monday we had a story that was either exclusive or so much better than the competition that all was forgiven … until the next deadline rolled around. He was the best reporter I’ve ever worked with.
In New York I discovered that he was a man of huge interests and knowledge to go with them. We’d talk about music—usually to be interrupted by his constantly ringing phones (both on his desk and his cell)—and I was so pleased the year he presented me with his annual Christmas songs compilation. It reflected his true nature: smart, offbeat, slightly twisted and fun.
Higgins was an original—both as a person and as a reporter. We won’t see his like again.
Mark K. Miller
Former Managing Editor, Broadcasting & Cable
FRIENDS and COLLEAGUES
The beauty of John Higgins, may he rest in peace, is that he did what all of us in journalism are supposed to do—he afflicted the comfortable and comforted the afflicted. He didn’t boast about it, or strut or preen. He just did it.
Any time there was a deal involving media companies, you could count on John to ask a direct, knowledgeable and embarrassing question that no one wanted to deal with. As my colleague Johnnie Roberts said in an earlier post, John spoke truth to power in the media industry. In his public life, John was as tough as they come, and wasn’t afraid of anything.
In private, though, John was the sweetest guy in the world. Despite being utterly irreverent, John was a serious Catholic who actually believed his religion’s teachings about helping the poor and the downtrodden and the least of us. So he just did it, without wearing his deeds—or his religion—on his sleeve.
John and I met in the early 1990s when—in typical Higgins fashion—he called me up to tell me something involving myself that I hadn’t known. You don’t get too many calls like that, and I wanted to meet the guy who’d made it. We became friends, and somehow fell into the tradition of having lunch together at a French restaurant on July 14 to celebrate Bastille Day. I’m into that holiday because my wife is part French, and we celebrate it at home. John was into it because he knew so much about so many random things—and it involved eating and drinking.
During one of those lunches, I told John that one of my daughters was looking for a reasonably-priced apartment in Hoboken—which, for those of you who don’t know New Jersey real estate markets, is a contradiction in terms.
Much to my amazement, John knew of one—a studio across the hall from his in a small, obscure building that has since been torn down. This was John at his best: helping my daughter, whom he’d never met; the landlord, who needed a reliable tenant; and me. The apartment worked out great, and John was the perfect neighbor—helpful, protective but not prying.
Susan loved him, Susan’s friends were enchanted by him. John had told me he would keep an eye on Susan, which he did. But he was totally discreet—in other words, he told me nothing. But John did depart from his customary silence to tell me that this guy Dave whom Susan was seeing was a sweetheart, and that the two of them were good together and good for each other. As usual, he was right. When Susan and Dave began drawing up lists of whom to invite to their wedding, which took place four years ago, Higgins was tops on the list.
Even though I was a competitor of sorts—I write a business column aimed at a general audience—John helped me out. For years, he answered my questions about who was doing what to whom in media deals, even though there was nothing in it for him. He just wanted to be nice. I tried to help him, too, but I ended up with a debit balance that I’ll now never be able to make up.
You could see that despite his love of journalism and making moguls grovel and scooping the world, John’s true love was Debbie. And rightly so. The smartest thing he ever did was to convince her to marry him. It’s so sad that they didn’t have the time together that they deserved.
In my religion—which isn’t the same as John’s—there’s a tradition that you call anyone from whom you’ve learned something “rabbi.” So farewell, Rabbi Higgins. Give the seraphim and cherubim hell until they let you see the Big Guy, so you can make Him tell you what He’s been up to. And you can scoop the world again.
Allan Sloan, Wall Street Editor
It is very simple: there are two types of people in the world, those that know John, and those that don’t. The former are greatly enriched to be in the world where John’s smarts and kindnesses abound, and are substantially better off because Higgins knew them. The latter folks do not know what they’re missing, nor, unfortunately, will they ever be so graced.
What do you do -- waiting for the bracing Higgins call, waiting for the fun Higgins get-together you should have scheduled sooner? His family and personal friends must be even more devastated than business pals, other than the B&C staff that has him every day, that are equally stunned.
What do you do? Fond memories forever held firm and visited frequently seem to be the best option, so far.
Higgins Pal & Senior Analyst
CL KING & ASSOCIATES
Oh, to have Higgins on the line.
You know what I mean.
You're at work. Could be any day of the week. Things are great. Then, suddenly, out of the blue, the call comes in.
You pick it up, and hear that unmistakable salutation: "Higginzzz".
His calling card, his mark, short-hand for "My dear, the jig is up." Or not...
For me, it was often just to shoot the breeze about music, new bands, new songs, what we had each seen and heard in a club or online. His love of music was deep and sincere. Even when he turned a critical eye to it, it was always with a beat and a sense of curiosity.
But regardless of whom he was building up, or skewering (aided by those stubbornly anonymous sources), we all showed him the deepest sign of respect you can give to a writer: we read him. We took his calls. We talked to him at industry events. Those endless events. And over the years, we came to count on his presence, as a reporter and an industry collegue, sure, but also as a guy you could talk to at a concert or over a beer.
We all turned to that byline. Like clockwork. Even on Sunday nights for those wretched, weekend-crashing online postings.
We read him. All of us. Broadcast AND cable. In a fragmented media environment, he remained buzzworthy, a master of watercooler TV journalism. Higgins, a brand with name recognition.
He loved the game, and I loved playing it with him...mostly. But I will miss him, completely.I will miss reading him. We all will. We already do.
A unique character, indelible, for sure.
Chairman and CEO, MTV Networks
I considered Higgins a true friend and confidant in my years as an analyst and media hedge fund manager. My first memory of him was at a hotel in Vail during an investor conference in 1990. Higgins was getting up to speed on the cable business, having just joined Multichannel News. I was immediately struck by his intelligence, inquisitiveness, and passion for the "story".
Later, when I moved from Denver to New York to become Bear Stearns' cable/media analyst, I learned that not only was Higgins a great journalist, but that he was also one heck of a nice guy and a trusted friend.
Higgins helped me locate the apartment I rented by walking around Manhattan with me one Saturday and providing "tips" about the various neighborhoods. A little over two years later, the day I moved out of New York to start a hedge fund in Denver, Higgins came to the rescue when the movers were late in arriving at my place and slow to pack my belongings. With little advance warning from me, he came to my apartment to supervise the movers, allowing me to leave and catch an early evening flight. Higgins later told me that the movers didn't complete the job until nearly midnight, so he simply ordered pizza and stayed with them all evening until they were done. I was shocked, not sensing that he felt at all imposed upon, and at how pleasantly he took it. That's just how Higgins was.
In the years that followed, I looked forward to my New York business trips whenever Higgins and I were able to rendezvous at one of many restaurants that he favored. The dinners and stimulating conversations that I had with him during those occasions were memorable.
In more recent years, Higgins and I fell somewhat out of touch, which I now deeply regret. While I knew of an earlier heart attack that he suffered, little did I expect that he would be struck down at such a young age, and I now wish I had done more to stay in better touch.
People like Higgins are all too rare. Consummate professional, selfless human being, and as nice and sincere as anyone you'll meet in a lifetime.
EnterMedia Growth Partners
I guess the only good thing is that it is now safe again to pick up the phone. Higgins was a king, I'd say. Ceaselessly cynical, spectacularly snide and with that lascivious laugh he was my VERY FIRST target when a room was full and there was gossip to discuss.
I truly wonder what he would say about his own passing. I don't know what it would be, but NO ONE else would say it. Higgins' (always: Higgins!!) perspective was so unique, so right on and so interesting. I often thought that it was truly illuminating that he had attended Notre Dame, yet hated sports. A gloriosly different world view.
A great mind has left us, and we will truly never see his likes again. My sympathy to John's wife, family and colleagues at this very sad and shocking time.
I first met Higgins in 1999 when he was gracious enough to interview me for a job at B&C. I foolishly passed, missing out on what would have been a terrific opportunity to learn from one of the best.
I spent my first year covering cable at The Hollywood Reporter beholding him with a mix of awe and fear. The latter subsided as I got to know him. I came to really admire his keen analytical skills and dogged manner.
I think we'll really miss his outsize personality when the next big media-industry conference call or press conference rolls around, proceedings he invariably dominated. To some degree, Higgins allowed you to be a little lazy; if you were feeling shy about asking an exec a tough question, you could usually count on him to do it before you even managed to raise your hand.
And that's why I can't help but think the media-industry press corps should take Higgins' untimely passing as a gut check of sorts. At a time when profound change is roiling the businesses on our beat, his muckraking spirit will be sorely missed. I hope we can all pick up the slack by sidestepping the spin zones, reporting aggressively and telling it like it really is.
That's the legacy Higgins left, and its something the rest of us hacks can't ignore.
I just wanted to point to a couple of links to, 1, a recent interview Higgins gave (as opposed to got) and, 2, an example of his early cyber generousness.
On Oct. 27, he appeared as a guest on NPR's On The Media, interviewed by Bob Garfield about NBC Universal's announced staff cutbacks, which the programmer described as part of a restructuring dubbed NBC Universal 2.0. "This is hysterical," Higgins started off. "It's the first time I've ever seen a company try to brand a layoff." Garfield cracked up. I also found this cached version of the "Cable Regulation Digest" that Higgins used to do in his spare time after deadline on Fridays at MCN. This fairly representative edition is from February 1994. Note how much MCN content Higgins repackages here for free to anyone who subscribed to this pre-World Wide Web recap of cable news from the week that passed (2,800 words or so). Thousands subscribed. Sample item: "BELL ATLANTIC DENIES TCI DEAL IS IN TROUBLE. Bell Atlantic Corp. and Tele-Communications Inc. dismissed speculation that their mega-deal is in trouble, but sources said the two companies are likely to revise the terms of TCI's sale." I guess we all know how that came out and how perishable news is. But as a free weekend summary, with absolutely no business model behind it except maybe for good will for Multi, it was something to be proud of. As his Multi colleague, I was.
Higgins’ footprint was larger than a communications satellite. He could cover the waterfront! Before Google and Yahoo!, Higgins was THE search engine for the television industry. Hell…still was before last week. In a business of moguls and giants, Higgins walked as tall as anyone. He may have written his last story, but his legend will continue to grow.
John was one of those rare reporters covering the business of an industry that actually understood business and the industry. And he cared. We're going to miss him.
Stan E. Hubbard
CEO Hubbard Media Group
I first learned who John Higgins was about 12 years ago at an AT&T press conference announcing yet another merger. After the executives spent about a half hour explaining why the deal was great, they took questions. This burly guy took the mike, pushed up his glasses and began firing questions that challenged every possible benefit of the deal. But he did it in a respectful way, and the executives responded in kind, doing the best they could to respond. I liked him right away.
John was liked and respected by his colleagues, and those he wrote about, because he truly understood the media business, he didn't hesitate to write tough stories and he was fair. He was also just a great guy, who clearly cared about people, including his colleagues and competitors. John made a great contribution to journalism, to the media world and to those who knew him. He'll be sorely missed.
Media and Marketing Editor
The New York Times
I am shocked and saddened to hear of John's sudden death. I enjoyed seeing him at various industry events over the years. It was a pleasure watching him at work - his questions were tough but fair. He was also unfailingly kind and generous toward his fellow reporters - quick to offer advice or an introduction. I always had great fun catching up with him and will really miss our chats. My condolences to all of you and to his family and friends.
Ellen Sheng | Dow Jones Newswires
I am Patrick Marrone, brother-in law of John Higgins. I saw the "Remembering Higgins" section and would like to have posted a few short poems I made in honor of John. John was a giver, a friend, and made others smile. Irish eyes are smiling now on all of us. Thank you God for giving us a chance to know and love him.
This 1st one is titled "GIVE"-
Give...Till you can't give anymore;
Reach deep inside for the love that is stored.
Give...All you possess,
For the more you give forth the more happiness.
For all the love you give comes back tenfold,
For the the feeling you receive is more precious than gold.
So Give...Give all you can,
This is the meaning of the word "Friend".
The last one is titled "Your Smile"
Your smile shines like the morning sun,
full of warmth... full of fun.
Your smile brightens up the dark days,
for your smile whisks the strorm clouds away.
When you smile it reaches both far and wide,
your smile creates a peacefulness inside.
For your smile makes the bluebirds sing,
Your smile is one of God's precious things.
Your smile makes the grass grow green,
your smile has a power that is unseen.
So smile now and you'll see,
the magic of your smile in heaven reach to me.
The loss of John at such a young age is devastating news. Sincere condolences to his wife, family, friends and co-workers.
John was a smart, fair, articulate and relentless reporter, who always asked the right questions - and kept asking them until the answers made sense. Because he did his homework, used his head, got his facts straight and always had some interesting news to share, he enjoyed great access to - and the full confidence of - industry leaders,
His rare skills and good humor will be sorely missed.
Alan D. Mutter
John Higgins was my friend. My relationship with John (I just couldn't call him Higgins) began more than 10 years ago when I was first starting out in the industry. Over the years it grew into a friendship. John helped me seek out new opportunities in the cable industry and provided advice on why I should or shouldn't take a new job. He seemed to know where all of the jobs were and was willing to help those of us looking to find the right opportunity. He could have run a recruiting firm on the side. I looked forward to John's calls. I knew when he called there was probably something that he knew, that I wish he didn't, but I felt that he was always willing to work it out with me. Outside of his incredible knowledge of the business, he was always "in the know" on the latest sample sales and was keeping many of us abreast of the hottest ones to go to, including commentary on why. During difficult times John would always call me and ask "How are you doing? Are you ok?" He was kind, thoughtful and a good friend and will miss him dearly.
Vice President, Media Relations
During the fall and winter of 2005 I would often run into John in the kitchen on the 14th floor of the Reed/Variety office building in New York, where we'd be getting coffee or having a sandwich. Although he inevitably seemed to be in the middle of the "big think," he unfailingly would ask how I was making out in New York or how Variety was doing or make some pithy comment about life in the city around us. Somehow his presence always perked me up and, as I remember it now, always did, in the 15 or so years I had known him. Not nearly well enough. But enough to appreciate that studiously gruff journalistic approach, which surely to his close friends did not obscure his inner teddy bear. He will be much missed.
Variety -Los Angeles
John was of a special class of reporters for many reasons. The one that stands out most for me was that he was unfailingly kind to other reporters. John never suffered a fool, but he'd always take the time to explain a complex industry concept to a green reporter -- including to me, more than a few times. That's what I'll miss most about him: A sense of esprit d' corps among the press corps as strong as his desire to hold all comers to a high standard of disclosure and honesty.
We can all learn a lot from his legacy.
Communications Daily cable & media reporter
I met John Higgins about ten years ago, when I joined RCN as the company's director of public relations. New to the industry, I have to confess I would have been ill-equipped to handle a reporter as smart and sophisticated as John under adverse conditions. Luckily for me, I entered the Higgins orbit at a time when RCN's story was very much in favor, its share price was steadily rising and there was really not much for him to take issue with.
I left the company before operational challenges and the broader market downturn started to take the bloom off the rose, and of course Higgins was the first one to recognize and document the situation, in the form of a long piece that was as well-reported as it was brutal. The coverage included a photo of a crudely handwritten sign a customer had taped to a mailbox that said something like, "Five Days! No Phone, No Cable, No Internet - Thanks RCN!" I think John may have actually confessed to having taken the photo himself, just to make sure it got in.
Over the years we would see each other at industry events and trade shows. There was nothing quite like the sight of Higgins schlepping across the show floor at NCTA, almost a sideways saunter, enormous bag slung across his shoulder containing his current micro-laptop and the digital recorder he'd held up in front of hundreds of faces, black jacket, white shirt. Pair of sunglasses and he could have been a Blues Brother.
When we talked on the phone he always ended the conversation by asking, "so what else is going on?" And, no matter how many times he said it, the line always froze me for a split second. Here I was thinking we'd concluded our business, he'd acknowledged some press release or accepted the fact that we weren't going to talk about whatever it was he wanted to talk about, and he'd hit me with a "so what else is going on?"
Grasping for some coherent response that revealed nothing, I'd typically take the conversation off-line and talk about something going on with my kids or the vacation we were getting ready for, preparing for NCTA panels or some other non-controversial event. He'd indulge me for a moment and move on.
I was in the city this spring as part of a group doing a pre-CTAM Summit media tour. We stopped off for briefings at all the trades, but the session at B&C was classic Higgins. He sat alone on one side of a long table in a big conference room, five or six of us facing him, drove the conversation and didn't take a note. I think we spent more time talking about the Fox upfront earlier in the week, which had thoroughly captivated John, than the Summit.
He and I had scheduled and canceled probably a half a dozen meals over the last couple of years, but when I knew I was going to be in the city that day I suggested getting together and he happened to be free so we agreed on dinner, location TBD. He had some Mexican place he'd been wanting to try, and I tend to have my own specific and fairly rigid ideas when it comes to food so as the media tour progressed after we'd left B&C he and I exchanged a long thread of e-mails trying to settle on a destination. I'd suggest a restaurant I liked and he'd offer up his Mexican place. And I'd suggest somewhere else and he'd respond with...
his Mexican place - complete with excerpts of recent reviews and Zagat characterizations.
No mystery where we wound up - and it was terrific. We had a great meal, talked about life and non-work issues. Even before this week's stunning news I was really glad we had finally gotten around to that dinner, and now, of course, it means so much more. I think he would have been tremendously moved - and really, deep down, fairly surprised - by the force and breadth of the outpouring this week from the industry that came to define him, as he strove every day to define it.
From Jim Maiella, VP Media Relations
Higgins (I'm not sure who this "John M. Higgins" guy is everyone's talking about) always had to know all the best places to eat. Not the hottest, trendiest places - I mean the hip little places known only by a few cognoscenti, where geniuses quietly cook from heart and soul. He tracked them down doggedly, and posted about some (under
pseudonym) to the Chowhound.com online forum (which I run, and which he helped support in a variety of ways). A few years ago we became friends, and enjoyed chowing around together. It was always a blast.
We almost never talked about media. So I never fully realized (until I read these memorials) that he was anyone more than some dude who worked in the industry. It was so Higgins-ish not to feel obliged to impress people with his stature. But, even more telling, he was such a curious, broad-minded kind of guy that one could dive into wide swathes of his life and interests without ever blundering into even a tiny fraction of it. If you told me Higgins was a world expert in Neolithic cave drawings or some obscure Norwegian form of archery, I'd not bat an eyelash.
I won't conclude with a polite note of remorse. That's not how Higgins would have reacted to the death of anyone who really mattered. I can't imagine him doing anything but turning red and railing furiously. So as I sign off, please visualize me pitching my fist heavenward, passionately cursing the gods for their incredibly poor judgement on this one.
For Those Who Live To Eat
I knew John Higgins for many years, largely in a professional capacity. But since the two of us invested so much time and energy into our professions, that was the same as knowing him as an individual and a human being.
Higgins (and I, and many who knew him, never called him John) was the the personification of that hard-line, skeptical but fair-minded journalist that seemed a thing of the past. He cared about both his readers and the industries he covered, no matter how angry he may have made managements or investors. But most of all, he cared about the truth. He was the personification of journalistic integrity.
We have all lost a friend.
Raymond Lee Katz
Senior Media Analyst (Retired)
Bear, Stearns & Co.
Higgins was one of a kind. A cliche, but it's true. We respected his fair, on-target reporting about C-SPAN and our industry. We admired his work deciphering the financial world. And most importantly, we always learned something when we read Higgins.
For those in academia who follow the electronic media business in B&C, the untimely death of John Higgins is a tragic and irreplaceable loss. I cannot count the number of superb articles he wrote to illuminate various aspects of the business. He was precise and sharp in his writing, and he possessed the uncanny ability to ask the right questions that an average reader wondered about. John Higgins' expertise will be deeply missed.
School of Communication
University of Miami
Like so many, I too, was shocked and saddened by the lose of John, at only 45! It seems like he has always been a part of cable, there when you needed him and usually when life and business were most challenging. He had a kind, encouraging word even when he thought, perhaps, what I was doing in my business life was "a little too risky". He called me "The Queen of Start Ups", usually with a laugh. He would honestly tell me that some of my new ventures would work and some would "fall flat on their face". Never did he attack me personally, only the "under funded fledging new service" that he believed may have a slight chance of succeeding. When I joined LodgeNet, John called and congratulated me saying he thought I had found a "good, financially sound home". That conversation was more than welcomed. His candor and support will be deeply missed. John was definitely one of the good guys.
Morgan J. Lambert
VP Satellite Programming & Special Markets
LodgeNet Entertainment Corp.
John would always inevitably asked the right question that was on everybodys mind --particularly in a public forum -- that everyone else was afraid to ask. He almost always skewered the turkey in the middle of the table. If you were the recipient of that questioning, it was inevitable that it was a question that you didn't want to answer but had to. That was his great art as a reporter.
He was an unbelievable friend….when I left MTV, I had a personal email account but he came up with a different one…..he registered a different email account for me in case I wanted to use it and had it ready…
When I was sick last summer, he came to see me often…..we had a relationship that revolved around finding new restaurants and cool restaurants and John inevitably found the best.
Can't think of anybody who was nicer, kinder, more caring and ultimately more humane than John. He was one of my very best friends. I miss him deeply.
Chairman and CEO of Interpublic Media
Broadcasting & Cable and the New York bureau of Variety have long shared a floor, which is to say everyone who has worked for Variety in New York has worked around John Higgins. Often enough, that meant chasing Higgins, which was never easy. But follow him around enough and you'd get a top-rate education in how to be a business reporter, and a lot of us did.
Three things Higgins taught me: Don't walk, RUN, if you need to talk to Bob Iger. Never exit an elevator before a woman. And you can be both incredibly competitive and incredibly generous at the same time.
I walked past that lively mess of paper, DVDs and all manner of recording devices stacked up on his desk today. Twice. It looked as if he might just be out for coffee.
I was devastated to learn that John Higgins passed away. I will remember his smile and his friendliness when we would run into each other at various media events and press conferences.
To me, John was the best cable reporter. When I arrived in New York two years ago, I was new to the media beat. John might not have noticed this but I would try to stay close to him when we all gathered around an executive after a press conference because I knew they would talk to him. John's questions were often the best: precise and right to the point. He got the answers too.
John was indefatigable in his search for answers. I remember countless times at diners or receptions where the rest of us would be chatting among ourselves, while John was relentlessly working the room to get answers from executives.
Covering cable in New York won't be the same without John.
Cecile Daurat, reporter.
Two things I thought of yesterday…..keep thinking again and again…..
In a biz, the media industry as a business to invest in, people that run it and analysts that follow, has a lot of gossip, a lot of rumors, a lot of egos. Higgins was probably the most fair and ethical person. When I think of Higgins, no matter what I said, I knew he would keep it in confidence. In a business known for being the intersection of the media and financial industries, produces rough and tumble environment, Higgins was a gentleman, he had a code of conduct that was extraordinary.
Higgins was not one dimensional, had knowledge of a lot of things outside the media industry…in 20 years I'd known him, not a year went by when I didn't find out that Higgins knew something else…..he gave me a history of a bunch of producers from burgundy….I thought where did he get that from…. everyone must have a story like that.
I don't think I trusted most investors as much as I've trusted Higgins. I would say what I was thinking, off the record. We could have a real conversation.
That's why Higgins had such interesting stories, you could trust Higgins with an idea, could say this is what I'm thinking, you could bounce something off him.
Keep thinking, for a guy who had massive know of industry he covered, he never became one dimensional.
For a guy who did it for a long time, never heard anyone question his integrity and honesty. He set a standard that people that run the companies, analysts that follow the companies and investors that invest in the companies would do well to follow.
Friend and Media Analyst at Morgan Stanley
John Higgins may have been my competitor but he always doffed his cap when you got a lead he didn't with an email saying, "nice scoop."
Of course he is the dean of TV business journalism and more often than not it was him beating everyone else. It was always fun to listen to him on the conference calls with media companies. He was polite and funny, but always made a sharp point. He'd be first at industry events to grab the mike. At a recent breakfast with Roger Ailes he drew giggles from the crowd when he asked, "Hannity and Combs.. Is that really a fair fight?"
I was thinking about him just this morning in Hoboken and how he told me which coffee shops were the best for hanging out with bookish types. He was eager to meet my baby and husband and know me as more than just another hack on the beat. He wrote to me just last week about Discovery's new CEO, only I didn't get chance to send a reply, so I guess I'll have to wait until we're both working on the big newspaper in the sky.
Goodbye John, to say I'll miss you would just be too much of cliche, he'd want something more original than that.
Deputy Media Editor
John M. Higgins, business editor at Broadcasting & Cable, died yesterday of a heart attack. He was 45. Here's a story posted today on the B&C web site. I'll miss him a lot.
I didn't know him long. I worked at B&C for a year and a half, first as a copy editor and then as an online news guy, while I slogged through a part-time program at the Columbia journalism school. I learned as much or more on the job at the magazine than I learned in j-school, and Higgins was a big reason why. He was incredibly generous and kind to junior staffers like me. I asked him so, so many stupid questions about the TV business and he always had time to answer them.
And he always had time to add an anecdote or some gossip about what I'd asked.
During my first two weeks as a copy editor at B&C, I was a huge pest to Higgins. The human resources department didn't issue me an employee ID, which was required to gain entry into the men's room. Any time that nature called, I had to find a co-worker — a male co-worker, since an employee's ID only worked for the appropriate restroom. Since Higgins sat closest to me in our cubicle, he always got the nod. And he always graciously lent me his ID, withdrawing it from his wallet while simultaneously typing up a story for the web and talking on the phone. (Higgins was always on the phone. I learned a lot just by listening to him work the phone.)
He was the kind of guy that told you on your first day where to get a good lunch and where to avoid a bad one.
To be a great reporter, it seems, one must possess at least a few quirks. Higgins had his share. The ubiquitous dark suit. The crazy messy desk. The Cher-like use of his last name. The singsong way he'd answer the phone–high note on "Hi," lower note on "ggins". The awesome story about getting ambushed in an O'Reilly Factor appearance. I'll miss all of it.
Former Associate Editor, Broadcasting & Cable
John not only raised the bar for cable financial journalism, he created the darn thing single-handedly. Sure, he knew it, and everyone else did, too, but braggadocio was not part of his makeup. I can't remember how many times I told him to his face, in front of Max Robbins and others, that he was the dean of cable trade reporters and that we all followed his lead. It was more than once, thank goodness.
The side that most folks didn't know about John was that despite his no-nonsense attitude on the job, once the Sun went down he was among the best storytellers, and good souls, on the circuit.
And he was everywhere, and knew everyone. If you didn't know someone at a party, John Higgins was glad to introduce you, the competition of trade journalism be damned. He was bigger than all that. Much bigger.
Editor, CableWorld Magazine
Media journalism has lost a true star.John was at the top of his game; he knew his subject and skillfully plied his craft as well as any in the field.His prodigious talent, quick mind, insight, fairness and engaging personality made him a pleasure to deal with.I will miss him greatly, both professionally and personally.
Hearst-Argyle Television Inc.
First time I met Higgins (and we all called him Higgins), he bummed a cigarette from me on a freezing day in 1994 outside the old Chilton Publishing building on 53rd and Seventh Ave. He was working for Multichannel News and I was a young reporter who worked for a sister publication called American Metal Market (it had nothing to do with music -- it was a trade journal devoted to commodity metals). He overheard me discussing a rock band with some of my friends, and of course, he couldn't let a conversation about music go by without comment. And we got into a name checking match over the course of that cigarette. When it came to name-checking, no one could beat Higgins.
After several different jobs and several different beats, I found myself covering the media business. And I ran into Higgins at the MTV Music Awards in the press tent, only this time, he was my rival. He was blustery, arrogant and smart as hell. "Well, when Judy and I met this morning, she told me..." I didn't dare ask, but I was supposed to know that he meant Judy McGrath, the head of MTV at the time. He managed to stay one step ahead of the competition most of the time and made sure you knew it.
One time, IAC chairman Barry Diller was giving one of his quarterly exhortations in one of the earnings call. Diller was being his usual irascible self, prefacing every answer from the press with his usual, "Well, that's an ignorant question..."Higgins asks a pointed question about a possible acquisition. And Diller says, "Regulation FD rules prevent me from discussing that." And Higgins shoots back, "Actually, under Reg FD, this is exactly the kind of forum in which you could answer that question." It would be one of the few times I've heard Diller flustered.
But my way to Higgins' heart would always be through music. "So what are you hearing?" I'd ask him. And for a second, he'd look at me as if I was asking him to reveal some rumor on our beat. And I'd say, "Music, Higgins, music." And his face would lighten and we'd compare notes on whatever was in our heavy rotation. He joined me to see the Mekons at Maxwell's in Hoboken about 10 years ago. There we were, two overweight guys bouncing up and down to punk rock without the slightest trace of irony. When the show was over, he looked over at me and said, "Better than Cats."
It is with all of this in mind that I offer my condolences to his family both in Hoboken and at B&C.
To John, I can only say, that wherever you are, I hope you and Richard Katz are hanging out and listening to Big Star. In the meantime, I will hoist a Coke with no ice in your memory. And I'll see you guys when I get there.
With a firm grasp of the facts, John Higgins spoke truth to power in the media industry. He was the most intrepid reporter to cover the media beat in the last quarter of century. He was an original and a consummate friend. He inspired all of us. I will miss him. God bless you, John.
In fond memory....
What a shock.While these thoughts are of small consolation to his wife in her time of loss, John leaves a legacy of bringing a smile to peoples’ faces in what would otherwise be mundane business environments. He could befriend a person upon first meeting.It was a true pleasure having known him.
David C. Joyce, CFA
Miller Tabak + Co., LLC
I'd like to express my most heartfelt condolences to the Higgins family and his colleagues at Broadcasting & Cable. While I didn't know John personally, I've long known of his work and thought he was a superb journalist and talent. I've always considered him to be in the top echelon of this business. He'll be greatly missed. Sincerely,
David Hatch, Reporter
I was devastated to learn this morning the sad news that John Higgins died. I admired him and his work greatly – he was a reporter’s reporter, the old fashioned and best kind of reporter who digs, digs, digs to get the facts, gets facts no one else had, and got them right. He was ruthless, in the sense that he wouldn’t let anyone stop him in his reporting. He would occasionally email notes to me about the column – I was flattered he read it and took the time to write (where he would commiserate about the travails of writing a column). Max was right – he often scooped the WSJ and NYT.
I will miss him, and journalism has lost one of its greats.
Just a few minutes ago, my colleague Jim Cooper came into my office and told me about John's passing. I'm in disbelief! First and foremost, my thoughts and prayers go out to his wife, Debbie. And of course, to all those who worked with him closely, namely the staffs of B&C and Multichannel News.
With his trademark growl, sly grin and white button-down shirt open two buttons under a dark suit (rarely a tie on, as I recall), Higgins cut a wide swath through the ranks to TV trade journalists and reporters. He could always be counted on to ask tough questions of the top-most executives at press conferences, and those top-most execs all knew who he was—Redstone, Parsons, etc. His stories were tough and he scooped us all on many occasions. I have been honored to compete with him. (I have done an impersonation of him for years now, but I think I'll now retire that).
Higgins came off as an irascible fellow many times, and tough-as-nuts. But his death reminds me that he also was a very empathetic and warm-hearted guy. John was totally there for me (despite his own grief) when our mutual colleague, and my best friend, Rich Katz died several years back. John and I went out to dinner shortly after a memorial put together by MTV Networks for Rich, at which he let me rant and rave at how angry I was to lose Rich at such a young age. John was hurting very much too, I realize now. But he let me get all these feelings off my chest and put his own feelings second. I can't thank him enough for that.
A few other things I want to thank him for: showing up at City Hall Jan. 10, 2002, the morning I got married to my beautiful wife Christine. I had run into Higgins the day before at some event and told him I was getting married. There he was, the next morning, digital camera in hand. He took some shots, he wished us well, he went back to work.
And lastly, he also made one of the best mix tapes of cool-but-obscure Christmas songs I've ever heard assembled. This holiday I know I'll be playing it in high rotation, to remember my friend and our colleague, John Higgins. We will all miss you.
What a horrible shock to hear the news of John's untimely passing. He was an extraordinary man of the highest character and an outstanding journalist who set a high standard for all professionals in the media.
As a journalist, he could report and write a story with the precision of a great artist in total control of his subject and medium. He had a great knowledge of show and business and an understanding of the people and dynamics of the industry he covered. In the stories and columns he so skillfully craft, John was honest, tough and willing to take on the most sacred of subjects. He did all that with such skill that even those he wrote about had to respect his reporting and views, because he got it right tiime and again.
My heartfelt sympathy goes to his wife, family, friends and colleagues. John is a man and a journalist who can't ever be replaced so we are all poorer for this loss. It is left to the rest of us to honor his memory, his extraordinary work and embrace our memories of his friendship.
Rest in peace John.
Alex Ben Block
Former Editor, Television Week
I had a Higgins experience just five days before his death. Higgins was sitting in the first row before a panel I was moderating that included Time Warner Cable's Fred Dressler, Cox¹s Bob Wilson and Fox Sports Net's Randy Freer. As I was about to start the session, Higgins jumped on stage, whispered two quick questions to me about the panel, got two quick answers, then jumped back down to his seat. Afterwards, he easily held court with many of the panel members. To me, that was typical Higgins. If a panel session to 500 executives had to be delayed by 30 seconds, so be it. He saw a story and was determined to chase it down.
This is terrible loss for me and for his readers who came to count on him for a clear, concise accounting on what was really going on.
John was a loyal friend who helped me through some tough professional and personal times, and he was simply fun to be around. I enjoyed his biting humor and offbeat tastes in music and food.
John was a reporter of the TV business without peer, who used his deep understanding of people and finances to stop the spin and get to the nut of the story. And he invariably told the story well.
During our years together at B&C, John was our journalistic conscience. We never had to refer to any corporate or other outside policy about what was right or wrong, about the ethics of the matter. We just had to ask John. His standards were always higher than anybody else’s. If we could meet them, we were on safe ground.
John was a man of strong opinions. He knew what he liked and didn’t like and would let you know. But he loved life, and I don’t think he hated anything, except, as all his editors came to know, a deadline.
My love and sympathy goes out to Deb and the rest of John’s family.
Harry A. Jessell
Former Broadcasting & Cable editor in chief
I met Higgins for the first time at the Cafeteria on 17th and 7th. He came blowing into the diner like black bear through underbrush. The tables and chairs in his path were but a mild inconvenience.
It was a job interview. I’d faxed him my resume 20 times and left as many voicemails. When finally he called, I was as indignant about being put off as keen on getting the job. When he moved in to shake my hand, I took his like a monkey wrench on the lug nut of a John Deere. His eyes flashed, he gave his half-grin, half-smirk, finger brushed his hair out of his eyes and said, “Tell me about yourself.”
It was 1999. I was 38, three years out of college with one small newspaper and some TV trade freelancing under my belt. I didn’t know squat, but I was stuck in New York and needed a job, which has a way of making a person bite down hard and hold on.
I did what Higgins told me to do, but he nonetheless provoked. One day on his way in, rather than flying by in his trench coat, he stopped dead at my cube and proceeded to berate me for a lead that didn’t meet his standards. John was not intentionally loud, he was naturally loud, so it wasn’t a private tirade.
I waited a few hours, then invited him into the conference room and shut the door. I told him I appreciated his professional opinion and understood that he was unhappy with me but that such public disparagement was beneath both of us. I told him if he wanted to rip me a new one, fine. Keep it between us.
A lot of people would have fired me on the spot. I knew that, but each of us has to know the demarcations of our dignity. Not with table manners and protocol, but integrity and character. He grinned and we went back to work. He never again rebuked me. I never again wrote an obsequious lead.
We again found ourselves in the conference room a few weeks later, however. I had a miscarriage on the way home from work the previous day. I knew what was happening; I knew what to do, but I had no one to tell. I told John. His empathy and concern were genuine. That was enough. It was all I needed to gather up and go on.
Higgins expected nothing less. He softened a bit, but never stopped pushing. Once, dissatisfied with the usual family-time spin on an exiting MTV executive, Higgins made me get Tom Freston on the phone—twice—and hound him six ways from Sunday about the departure. Finally, exasperated, Tom just said, “Tell Higgins that sometimes a cigar is just a cigar!
Thank you, great black bear of a man. May God write your name in the heavens with an endless string of stars.
Former cable reporter, Broadcasting & Cable
As one who competed with John, he was one of the hardest working and most aggressive reporters on the beat. He was a classic throwback reporter. He was gruff but with a love of the job and getting the scoop. It sounds clichéd, but those types are fewer and fewer these days. He had great sources and connections but he could never be accused of being too cozy to the industry. He kept his distance and perspective at all times.
One of my favorite memories of John was working a cable convention with him several years ago. After one of those big sessions with industry big wigs there was the usual scrum afterwards. The flacks were literally trying to physically restrain Higgins from getting on the stage. He would go from one end to the other and they would furiously try to block him, which was great because he created such a distraction that me and John Dempsey were able to sidestep all that and get backstage to the executives. Of course, it didn’t matter in the end because Higgins would always get the story first anyway.
Director, Industry Programs
The Museum of Television and Radio
I just heard about John!I am so sorry -- he was a wonderful man and brilliant reporter!!I know how close you were -- I am so terribly sorry.Pls let me know what, if anything I can do ....I am here!
I just heard from Glenn that John Higgins has passed away.
John had a real instinct for getting to the heart of what was really happening. He’s irreplaceable.
John almost never quoted me as an analyst. This bugged me, but I know he thought he was smarter than I was. And I guess I have to admit he probably was.
My sympathies to all of you at B&C.
VP & Principal Analyst
The Best Analyst
John Higgins was the best financial analyst not on Wall Street.
The skills of being a financial reporter and being a financial analyst are interchangeable, to great extent. It just depends on who you work for and whether you’re governed by securities regulations or the First Amendment.
Like the best reporters or analysts, Higgins built his network well. But more than building, John was the network; a focal point for ideas, for trades of information and reports, and for spying on the competition. He was, in one human force, what Berlin was to the Cold War, or Hong Kong was to the spies of Asia. Those at the Times or the Journal who didn’t hire him because of his somewhat rough sartorial habits and similarly rough personality never knew what they missed.
When he’d call, “Hiiggiinnss,” he’d say. “What do you think about “ or “Do you have a clue about” or “(insert many names) is saying this about…is he full of xxxx or what? or “That lying xxxx is at it again, why do they keep people like that around?” or simply, “I’m doing xxxx, whatcha got?”
He talked like that. He was quick to judge. Those who burned him once never recovered. But, once judged positively, he was long on friendship…so long as you didn’t expect that good friendship was a trade for good journalism.
Besides all the big name players that were part of his job, sometimes it was shocking who else he knew. One night when Debbie was up from her job as an FTC lawyer in Washington, the four of us went out to a Nyack sushi place. Valerie was describing a significantly less than couth photographer from my Vietnam unit who had dropped into our Denver apartment for dinner three decades ago. On her description alone, without a name, John ID’d the guy. Apparently they had frequented the same bar in Miami two decades ago.
A few years back, when John discovered that our disabled adult son spent 12 hours or more a day watching CNN and was getting more news from the crawl than from the program feed, he kept after Trevor to write a piece about the crawl, and then got it published. It was interesting. It was kind.
Those who know how the media information engine room works, will also know that the impact of this loss will go far wider than this magazine. It is the loss of a man at the center… a man whose tendrils wrapped themselves around and through the entire industry.
John Higgins was the Information Superhighway.
During the seven years I worked at B&C, John always found a way to relieve the stress and routine of putting out a weekly magazine with bits of gossip, observations on pop culture or, when needed, wise counsel.
I was lucky enough to share a byline with him on maybe a dozen cover or front page stories over the years. John’s confidence in his own abilities was apparent but he also had faith in his colleagues and was always glad to share space when we could add news, insight or color to a story.
Higgins was tenacious at getting the facts but he also had a knack for finding the right quote or anecdote to bring a story to life. One of my favorite examples was a cover story we paired up to write on broadcast stations’ never-ending battle to make cable operators pay to air their programs. Few topics cry out for a dose of color than “retransmission consent.” Of course John pulled it off when he discovered a battle in Texas that was forcing viewers in Abilene to trot to the local Radio Shack if they wanted to continue seeing the local NBC affiliate, which has been pulled from the local Cox system’s lineup.
Here’s his lede from our Feb. 7, 2005 story “No Cash, No Carry” :
The hot consumer-electronics product in Abilene, Texas, is not a TiVo, a Blackberry or even an iPod. It's a set of “rabbit ears,” the old-fashioned TV antennas that most viewers haven't used in years. But suddenly they're essential for Cox cable subscribers who want to watch the local NBC station, KRBC.
Thanks John, Rest peacefully
Washington Bureau Chief
The Daily Deal
We just learned about the death of John Higgins. He was interviewed by one of our reporters just yesterday.
We send our sympathy to all of you.
Marketplace, the public radio business show
Ironically, my relationship with Higgins went from feared reporter to beloved friend at the memorial service for Joel Berger, 12 years ago. Higgins knew Joel and I were close and sought me out to comfort me. It was the first time I had seen his gentle side and I was the beneficiary of that brotherly kindness for a dozen years.
Higgins knew how to develop sources and in our case at Lifetime, certainly among women. I don’t think there are many reporters who supply their contacts with Prada sample sales alerts as John did regularly. And like a good reporter, he always followed up to inquire about our loot.
John was a true original. At his wedding, when taking his vows, he boomed “I, Higgins, take thee Debbie….” The wedding program announced that despite his vows, “Higgins will be keeping his name.” We will all keep his memory in our hearts. We were lucky and blessed to know him, and our love goes out to his family and especially Debbie.
Executive Vice President, Public Affairs
Hi Max, PJ, Anne:
Just a note to let you know that my heart goes out to all of you at Broadcasting & Cable on the terrible loss of Mr. Higgins.I am stunned and so terribly sad today.I just spoke to him yesterday.Over many many years, and through several jobs..when I was at FX, at Court TV, and now working with my client iN DEMAND, I had a lot of interaction with him.Some of it - ok- most of it -- was tough as his piercing mind sought the real truth behind the spin.But, through it all, we developed a warm and caring relationship.When I was between jobs, he would take me out to breakfast or call with ideas. He always cared about the person behind the job.
I can't imagine how tough it must be for all of you.But it is a loss for the whole industry, as he touched so many of us.
Ellen M. Cooper
What a shocking and sad loss for us all...I had a chance to see Higgins last week for the first time in a few months and even though we were at a media conference, the kind of environment where Higgins usually has his energy and attention scattered in a million directions as he hunts for stories, angles and gossip, our focus, for a few minutes, wasn't the industry. "Debbie is finally back in New York,"were the first words out of his mouth, showing where his priorities, despite countless hours on deadline, truly lay.
John was as loyal of a co-worker as he was a husband, brother, and son. I recall a week long hospital stay I had at the NYU Medical Center, a cozy 10-minute walk from the B&C offices and a 25-minute walk to the nearest train back to Hoboken when John showed the kind of caring and heart he had. My first day there Higgins stopped by and brought along a large fruit smoothie, the kind of treat that can make the difference between a good day and a bad day in a hospital.
'Thanks!," I said.
He must have noticed my elation becuase every day for the next five days John did the same thing. And it was early December, not May. Each night he showed up like clockwork at 7:30 p.m., smoothie in hand, to check on me. It was an act of kindness that no doubt resulted in his copy being a little extra late that week.
Somethings I'll never forget: waiting patiently for a special report to be filed two days late because John just needed one last piece of information. His ability to find a document on his desk amidst a pile of paper that could only kindly be described as untidy. And then there was his eternal embarassment over the use of the word "Phat" in one of his cover story headlines at a time when phat was anything but phat.
So Mr. Higgins. Thank you for coming to hear my sister's band at Sine and telling me the next morning that she was too good for the rest of the band. And thanks for helping me buy my dad the perfect outdoor smoker (and the tea-smoked chicken recipe). And thanks for the hardcover copy of "Soul of a Chef" because, as you like to say, when you finish a book give it to someone else so they can enjoy it too.
But maybe this once I'll keep it. Rest in peace John...the TV trade magazine industry will never be the same.
Former B&C Technology Reporter
May you rest in peace, John, my dear friend. Thanks for listening to all the silly pitches and agreeing to meet with all the clients that didn't have a shot in hell at success. You always gave them the benefit of the doubt. I will miss calling you, getting your answering machine (which was always the case) and hearing, "This is Higgins, leave a message." The message here is: you were so damned talented, it hurts to see you go.
True to form, he broke a major story in his final days. He really did keep SEC filings on his nightstand, and always sat attentively in the front row at National Show General Sessions and analyst conferences, typing away on his laptop. I miss him already, and wish him well on his next assignment.
When I was a telecom reporter at the St. Petersburg Times, I once called John Higgins for his insight into how the Newhouse and Miron clans ran Advance/Newhouse Communications, which was about to take over managerial control of the local cable company.
"Every Korean deli in New York has Mom running the cash register, the sons trying to bring the ramen noodles out of the basement, and Dad's cutting the bologna at the counter," he replied. "It's a family business. Newhouse is run like a family business."
Authoritative, colorful and to the point -- just what my story needed.
John was unfailingly gracious and accommodating whenever I called to pick his brain and it was with shock and dismay that I heard today of his sudden passing. Please accept my deepest condolences.
I am totally stunned and saddened to hear about John's passing. I will miss the stimulating conversation and debate. Just this evening I was thinking of him, as John's would be the first to get the scoop on the Comcast-ESPN terms and detail. Now we will have to go it alone and with less companionship.
I just read through the many postings from people remembering Higgins. I was really moved to see just what kind of respect he commanded in his profession.
We both flunked out of Notre Dame together in the early '80s, when the time we divided between the student newspaper and classes favored the paper by a factor of about 10. While much of the paper's coverage was devoted to issues such as poor results on the gridiron or an excessive number of nuts buried by squirrels on the South Quad, John pursued stories like a multi-part saga about the mob connections of the owner of a local bar favored by students with dubious IDs. (Said owner was later found shot dead in a closet - evidently the trunk of a Lincoln wasn't available.)
In 1991, we were at a reunion of the school paper and, during a formal affair, the power went off. Time went by and we mentioned to the current students running the paper that it seemed like a good story (big football weekend, lengthy blackout, lots of chaos, etc.) and they looked at us like we were crazy. So I said to John, "why don't you do the story for them?" He disappeared into the dark and at most 10 minutes later, reappeared with the reason for the blackout (sub-station explosion) as well as an underlying cause (recent budget cuts had gutted inspections) and an angle worth pursuing (said reduced inspections may have violated state law). Oh, and he'd picked up a few color quotes from some of the pissed-off millionaire ND-alums milling about the darkened lobby.
We stayed in touch through the years, and in September when we last met up over beers, it was as always a rollicking affair where musty reminiscences about the past never got aired. John (yes, he was 'Higgins' in college, he was born 'Higgins') was one of the most vital, fun and caring people I knew, and I'll miss him a lot.
Ryan Ver Berkmoes
John Higgins was a young reporter at Multichannel News when we were acquired by Fairchild (Cap Cities/ABC) back in 1990. Marianne Paskowski, our newly appointed editor, considered John to be a rare talent as she rebuilt the stuff. While I would not consider him a cub reporter, he was still in a development stage and kept us up nights in the early going.
Under Marianne's guidance, (I think she actually removed a thorn from his paw), John became arguably the best business journalist covering the cable television industry, bar none.He was aggressive throughout his career and maintained a moral compass that held others to the same high ethical standards he held for himself. I recall him returning Christmas gifts of minimal value rather than appear conflicted in his coverage. (Made it tough for the rest of us in the process.)
When John was recruited by B&C (then Cahners) in 1997, it felt like we were losing a member of the family, only to be acquired ourselves shortly thereafter and rejoined under the Reed banner. I told him he was the stalking horse and we were really the target all the time. He would never get away.
I will always remember John as a diligent, honest, self-determined character who was indeed a member of our family. He was a curmudgeon with a heart which eventually failed him, but like Roger Brown, former editor of CED, he will remain forever in my thoughts, along with the late Joel Berger, as having shared a pretty good ride. God bless you, John.
Reed Publishing Group
lost touch with Higgins in recent years.I met Higgins when he was at Notre Dame and he was quite a character then.I worked at the campus radio station and he was a sponge when it came to all of the new music that I'd play.Later in life he'd turn the tables and would be the one who'd tell me about the hottest new band he'd just heard.In school I'd run into him in the basement of LaFortune Student Center and engage him in late night conversations on topics ranging from religion to whether the Clash should change their political views.I'll remember Higgins' Chicago newspaper guy look with dark pants, a jacket and rarely a tie but often with a cigarette and trench coat.He would often speak just a little bit louder than you would expect and get strange looks from others in the room.He'd love to visit a club to catch a new band or an old favorite like Joe Jackson.He'd make you laugh and really enjoyed long jokes - especially the one about the dog and the cigar - guess you had to be there.
John Higgins and I knew each other for years, although we never met.
When I was writing a regular TV column, John was someone I could count on for the name of an expert or a comment on an issue. We also exchanged story tips, even after I had to leave the column due to illness.
Several years ago, after his first heart attack, I noticed a subtitle change in John.Some of the flipness and sarcasm was gone.He seemed to develop a sense of empathy, which is never a bad trait for a journalist.
John was smart, funny and a great reporter.John also died too young.
He is irreplaceable.
I was so saddened to hear the news about John’s death yesterday.I never feared a call from John, as I always knew that whatever he was calling about would be smart, correct and fair.The few times he didn’t have things exactly right, he always waited for the facts to catch up before he wrote.We had lots of laughs together, often times having some fun over the very thing he was calling about.I always love and respect people who are smart and fair --- John embodied both of these things.And kind and witty too.I will miss him.
SVP, Corporate Communications
On behalf of everyone at Goodman Media, I want to extend our heartfelt condolences to you and to your staff.
We are thinking of you and your colleagues at this difficult time.What a shock.
When I worked at Cablevision magazine and Higgins was at sister publication Multichannel News, we'd always ask, "What does Higgins think?" (We just called him Higgins, because he was worthy of a one-word moniker.) 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.
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.
Interactive TV Works
I worked with John when we were both at Multichannel News, and of course agree with all of the heartfelt accolades being given here: great reporter, great guy.
My first day at MCN, Higgins introduced himself to me by saying, "What kind of music do you like?" It was a great way to meet him, and opened the door to many further discussions on bands, songs, reporting, etc.
He will be greatly missed.
I'm still in shock after having learned about John Higgins' passing.The first time we met was at a Kaitz dinner several years ago.I was talking to Pam Euler Halling of Insight.Pam turned away and he took me under his wing to escort me up to the reception.When I said "John, why are you doing this, you don't even know me?"His response was "You know Pam, that's good enough for me."
Since then I've had a number of occasions to talk with him about stories.His integrity, intelligence and keen insight always impressed me.When I asked him to moderate a panel about retransmission consent at BCFM's Annual Conference - featuring the combustible combination of a cable operator and a TV station group owner - he handled it with an expertise few could match.
John was a great reporter and a special person.My heart goes out to his family and friends.We have truly lost someone special.
Mary M. Collins
President & CEO
I was so sorry to hear about John's passing the other day. I had known him from the media beat for several years and thought very highly of him in every regard. My thoughts are with you and yours at this difficult time.
John was the king of the hill in many ways as a reporter for this industry. He was so damn smart, worked so diligently, and could smell BS a mile away. He loved getting to the bottom of a story and could dissect a company like few others.
He savored his role as a journalist, and he was an interesting, passionate person, always fun and challenging to be around.
He will be greatly missed; he left us all way too soon.
Former CEO, Viacom
I first met John when I was a young reporter in Canada in the 1980s and rang him out the blue to ask about a satellite company that was launching a TV service; he was amazingly gracious and helpful and stayed in touch. I looked him up when I moved to New York a few years later, and enjoyed his company ever since. I remember having a drink with him around the time of both our weddings, and behind his tough exterior it was clear that he considered himself lucky in love and much else.
John was a knowing, intelligent, and competitive journalist. Perhaps best of all, he always got the joke. He could even loosen up the stiffest of corporate rituals, the quarterly earnings call; with one of his irreverent, perfect zingers he'd let the media chieftains on the line know that he was not in any sort of thrall to be speaking with them. It's hard to imagine John is no longer with us, and it was a privilege to know him. My deepest sympathies to his family and friends.
The New York Times
"John was smart, honest and fair.He knew our industry so well that he was often first on big or interesting stories. And he was good company.He was just with us on election night. We will miss him. "
Chairman & CEO
Turner Broadcasting Sytem, Inc.
I will miss John and my colleagues at Rainbow Media will miss him too. We are thankful for what he brought to our industry. He was a good, fair, tough journalist who gave his publication great credibility.
When I spoke to John as a member of the media, I knew to be prepared for good, smart, tough questions and that he would be thoughtful, provocative and unforgiving about the answers he received. What he wrote was worth reading and what he thought was worth hearing.
But I often spoke to John as a friend.John and I shared common political views and had a great time discussing important issues outside the industry. During the '04 election, he came to my house for a meeting to rally lawyers and others to go the polls and fight voter discrimination.We had about 300 people present and actively engaged and he was pumped up for the event.
John left me a message a couple of weeks ago; on November 6th - the eve of the mid- term elections,saying he "wanted to talk politics."We traded calls, missed each other and finally hooked up on November 8th. He sounded ecstatic.He had spent the night at CNN monitoring election results.
When I think of John, I think of him sifting through information, looking for the real deal and for what mattered.He was a man of passion who cared about our business, about big ideas, and most of all, about people.
I met John Higgins about 20 years ago when I hired him onto the staff of the Daily Business Reviews, a small South Florida chain of business and legal dailies I was running for Steve Brill's American Lawyer Media.
Higgins had no business reporting experience and not much newsroom experience of any kind. He had done some general assignment work for a paper somewhere in the frosty Upper Midwest, and one of his clips was a feature on some ridiculous club that gathered every winter to saw holes in the river ice for a ritual swim. Higgins had decided to do the story as a first-person account and had joined them for a dip. I knew I had to have him. "Our kind of lunatic," I said in the memo to staff announcing his hire.
He was smart and fearless, and became a deft business writer by the time he left our Fort Lauderdale staff, four or five years later, to become a financial analyst in New Jersey. I was glad to hear that didn't work out and Higgins had returned to journalism. I didn't realize realized how successfully until 2001, when I was again working for Brill, and he and I were having breakfast in the City with uber-analyst Tom Wolzien. Tom told us he thought Higgins was the premier reporter on the cable industry beat.
I was proud to hear it, and we made lavish attempts to recruit Higgins to take over the editorship of Cable World, which he rebuffed. I thought he was wrong to turn down a chance to have his own operation, but when I last saw him later that year, over dinner in some dive in lower Manhattan, he bragged about his wife, and he struck me as happy and committed. He also seemed to be on a rising professional trajectory, and his death has now cheated us all out of what another 20-some years of his journalism would have produced.
Knight Professor of Journalism Ethics
Washington and Lee University
I want to thank you for your words of kindness regarding John's untimely passing. I'm John's brother in law-Tony Marrone. I deeply appreciate your support for Debbie and John's brother and sister. I knew John differently than most of you did. John was part of our family. He was a "character" though. I remember how he liked to be called "Higgins" and finding it rather odd. He would answer the cell phone having dinner at our house with the familiar "Higgins". John was gracious enough however to do this away from the table though. He was always looking for the story.
His odd quirks were always amusing. He visited me in Portland , Oregon this summer and on the hottest day of the year(100+ degrees) he would still wear the standard Higgins uniform-Black Jeans White Shirt and Dark Jacket. While here, John spent time trying to find this rare bottle of wine for a friend of his he wanted to thank. That's the kind of guy he was. He also had this funny thing about collecting eyeballs-like I said he had quirks.
We both shared a love of coffee and I'm glad John got to come to Portland to experience it. The next time you have a cup of coffee remember John just a little. He'd get a kick out of it.
On John and Debbie's wedding day I told John one thing " Just be good to her" You were. You were a good guy John. I'll miss you and I'm proud of you, for your work and for who you were. I'll miss you Higgins.
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.
John was truly one of a kind. I never had the chance to actually meet him, but we spoke by phone several times. John asked tough questions, but you could tell he truly cared about the answers and his subjects. He will be missed by all of us in the media world.
"America's Most Wanted"
Higgins (what else could you call him?) was a terrific reporter.Beneath the gruff, frazzled exterior was a true pro with a sharp analytical mind who knew the industry inside out and whose stories were accurate and thoughtful. A dogged reporter, I remember seeing him almost literally tackling Jerry Levin on the floor of an NCTA show.His PR people had been blocking access so Higgins seized the moment and literally jumped in front to ask some typically tough questions.Levin blanched and said a few words.Shirttails flying Higgins gave chase, shouting more questions, right up the main aisle of the show as Levin was quickly hustled off by his handlers.Quite a sight, sort of the journalistic equivalent of a Mountie – he always got his man…
Lloyd P. Trufelma
It was the early 1990s, and I worked across the street at Pamela Giddon & Company, a public relations firm which handled many cable clients. I was young and new to NYC and remember being terribly intimidated by John's burly demeanor, imposing size (I'm about as big as one of his legs), and obvious brilliance. But being a persistent "flack," I kept barreling at him, and soon a wonderful friendship was born - me a bubbly chatterbox, and he a gruff cynic. He was truly so kind and funny, a big teddy bear of a man underneath it all.
When I left NYC in the mid-90s to work in education, he thought I was crazy. Said I'd miss working in cable, which I know he so loved. We lost touch after that, and I always regretted it - he is one of the handful of people from those years who always brings a smile to my face. I kept reading his shrewd work, though, and am so glad to learn that he found a true love with whom to share his life. Rest in peace, dear John - I promise to finally catch up with you on the flip side.
Jessica Schwartz Hahn
Peitho Communications LLC
I had the good fortune to work with Higgins at B&C for many years. He was one of the smartest, kindest, funniest men and despite the gruff exterior, had a heart of gold. We didn't always stay in touch but always picked up where we left off when we saw each other. I was lucky enough to see John on Monday eve at the party after the International Emmy Awards. We spent an hour catching up and gossiping - which he loved to do. I am thankful for that last encounter. My heart goes out to his wife, his family and his colleagues at Reed. He will be sorely missed.
Better Homes & Gardens
Answering machine: “Higginzzz…do something.” Kind of says it all, doesn’t it? Never without an opinion, never without passion. When my best friend Debbie told me she was getting married, I knew the man must be one of a kind. I told John, “be good to her, she’s a real gem.” And he was.
He turned out to be the kind of husband who brought flowers, chocolate, or even a great color of nail polish home for his wife, because he knew that sort of thing made her happy. It seemed like he was always thinking of others. On their wedding day, he bought me a salt bagel, because I like them…and because that’s the kind of unselfish guy he was. Reading other’s anecdotes, I hear how perpetually “on” John was, but to us, he was a genuinely warm, down-to-earth, all around friend. A guy who loved our kids. And loved to see Debbie join in and become one of them. He was “Uncle John” to our girls, and of course “Higgins” to the older boys. When my husband, Jeff, corrected one of them, “that’s Mr. Higgins, Josh,” John would protest, “No, it’s Higgins (even to the 13-year-olds of the world).” Debbie, I will always picture you and John after our wedding, holding each other, with that special look. That look that said two very special people had found one another in this world and wouldn’t ever let go. He will be missed so much…
Lynn Staggs Kudisch, M.D.
We have all lost a great friend and reporter, and in that order. As good (GREAT) as he was at his job, his relationships were number one in his book—or that he carried around and called a cellphone.
I cannot thank John enough, a reporter of his stature, taking the time seven years ago to educate a recent college graduate flack about the ever-changing landscape of cable. Our relationship evolved over the years from phone calls about a network going under to raising cable rates and a la carte to that of dinner recs in NY and vacation ideas. He kept me on my toes—boy did he ever—but was always a phone call or drink away from helping me with any issues I was having—work or personal—always wanting to take care of me. He was always a step ahead—had every document, every rumor....I don't know how he did it. I always knew just who to turn to. John, thanks for always making time for me...you will be missed....
Catherine Sloane Brett
I first crossed paths with Higgins when he was covering the cable biz at MultiChannel News and I was a business reporter on the same beat at the Rocky Mountain News. I figured out pretty quickly that if I was going to do a credible job of covering the industry, I'd have to pay close attention to what Higgins was reporting.
Not only did he break stories before his competitors, he often broke them before industry insiders themselves knew they were stories. It soon became my goal—maybe obsession is a better word—to beat Higgins to the punch. Can't say I ever did it, but playing second fiddle to him was good enough.
In one of those strange twists of fate, I ended up working with Higgins at Broadcasting & Cable. It was a pleasure, a challenge and a learning experience that continues to this day. In the few years we were a team, I was, at best, Robin to his Batman. I remember one time when I managed to finagle an exclusive interview with John Malone. I was always a little awed by Malone. Not Higgins. I think maybe he didn't quite trust me to handle the interview alone and he flew to Denver for the day to take part. I was glad he was there. Indeed, I was glad he was there to offer guidance, support and criticism on much of the work I did for B&C. He didn't care when or where I called—at work, at home, even when he was on vacation—he was always ready, willing and able to help.
The last piece we worked on together before I left the magazine was a long cover story about Adelphia. It was shortly before the Rigas family's financial shenanigans came to light. I'd like to think the story played a part in exposing their crimes, but if it did, it was thanks only to Higgins. After I'd written the first draft, he told me to start over, dig deeper, look harder at the company's financials. Higgins'' instincts, as usual, were spot on. Higgins, I miss you, my friend. You always said I couldn't write a lede to save my life and maybe you were right. But I sure would have picked a different close for your story.
When I was a baby reporter at B&C, we all lived in fear of Higgins, who was often crushing us with major scoops at Multichannel News. Then, thanks to some corporate wooing, he was suddenly on our side, and we were pretty much still scared of him. An old B&C-err, Chris McConnell, and I used to joke that Higgins was Michael Jordan, while we were playing JV ball for the local high school. Unfortunately, that sad little analogy remained largely true throughout the years. Still, I quickly learned that nothing about Higgins was scary. He was all bark and not so much bite, except when he was on a story and then he was all business. As many people have pointed out, Higgins was always very busy with work, but he was never too busy to take time for the personal. He was a mentor to me as well, and actually cared about the quality of my work and of my life. While I haven't quite grasped that there's suddenly a Higgins-sized hole in the world, I do know that his loss will be felt for a long time, in ways we do not yet even understand. And John, I'll never again report a big story or listen to a hot new band without thinking of you.
I can’t say that I knew John Higgins. However, I did correspond with him a couple of times about a year ago. Working with Los Angeles’ film office, FilmL.A., I was helping put together a forecast report on the Fall TV season and found myself in the difficult situation of having to explain how cable fit into the picture. I called Broadcasting and Cable for help. John Higgins not only took the time to explain the vagaries of the cable business, but asked me what kind of data I would need to complete the report and promptly supplied it. I remember turning to my colleague and saying, “this guy is a real mensch!”
When it came to the 'Net, I always felt I was a bit of an early-adopter. Higgins was an 'earlier-adopter'—and always reminded me of that fact. He loved the fact that he still had his ages-old Dorsai.org e-mail account, and enjoyed dazzling me with his ability to Telnet (never mind what it is—suffice to say that it was cool for a business editor to know how to do it).
Few people remember that Higgins was Multichannel News' first 'Webmaster.' Way back in '96— after each week's issue closed—he used to post a bunch of the articles online. He even kept a running list of links called "Cable TV Resources on the 'Net" that were inimitably his. Higgins was the fearless, uncompromising, opinionated big brother that many of us wish we had. I was honored to have gotten some of his 'Net hand-me-downs, and will forever remember him.
Former Multichannel News Webmaster
I haven't seen John Higgins since my internship with Multichannel News came to an end in the fall of 1994, but some recent banter among friends brought to mind a very funny incident involving Higgins' signature wit. (I won't go into detail in this space, but let's just say it involved a semi-off color but perfectly timed, funny-as-hell comment that brought the Multichannel News staff to our knees in laughter—and coaxed Marianne Paskowski, then editor in chief, out of her office to see what all the commotion was about.
"Ladies and gentlemen," I recall her saying sternly, "need I remind you that you are in mixed company!" With that, she returned to her office, and the roar of laughter degraded to childish snickers. I never forgot that day and how this serious, hard-core financial reporter could deliver such a hysterical line in deadpan fashion. A truly gifted man.
Editor, Metal Finishing
When I first arrived at the CAB 12 months ago I knew few of the industry's reporters. Our outside PR counsel began to educate me upon my arrival and when we reached the subject of John Higgins his quote was "very tough - but as down the middle as you'll get."
I remember the first time I pitched him feeling butterflies in my stomach as if I was a rookie publicist making my first call. What I learned after that call and in subsequent talks with 'Higgins' was that he was a great guy. While others sometimes feared or chafed at his tough exterior -- I always enjoyed our banter. He was a throwback -- a genuine soul with a focus that kept me on my toes and ultimately made me do my job better. I'll miss our rapid-fire chats, and, although I did not know him long, will always remember him.
Cable TV Ad Bureau
John was one of great personalities that I had the pleasure to run into during my forty years in the cable TV business. Not only could John understand all of the nuances of our business but he quickly got to the bottom line. When I was giving a pro-speech before a cable friendly audience years ago, John came up to me after the talk. I ask him what he thought. He responded, "You're full of crap!"
John was right on, and I loved him for his candid comments and his friendship.
Vice Chairman, Charter Communications
I first time I met John was at a Discovery Channel event in NYC- sometime between 2004 and 2005. Our connection was a mutual friend. I can not say that we talked about the usual things 2 people talk about when they have a friend in common- how we came to know our mutual friend, our occupations and employers, where we are both from originally, where we live, etc.
I knew John was different because he asked different questions, gave unique answers, conveyed funny stories of how his path crossed the same person, place, and/or thing, finished my sentences, etc. One thing I remembered from our first conversation was his view on home mortgages.
Social Worker, Children's Defense Fund
John was the real deal. He was kind, generous, fair, smart, and well read without being pretentious about it. I don’t think I’ll ever meet anyone else who could be equally enthusiastic about some new thrash rock band to a book about financial analysis.
The memories that stand out, though, remind me how much John loved to laugh -- and how often he made other people laugh. I recall two years ago, when Ken Auletta interviewed Jon Stewart at a packed breakfast in the Bryant Park Grill. Because John was standing in back, during Q&A it took about a minute for the aide with the microphone to reach him.
When he did, John said: "I don't have a question. I just wanted to see this guy work." It was so unexpected, and so guilelessly delivered, that everyone—including Stewart, a professional comic—burst out laughing. John did have a question, of course. A great one. Didn’t he always? I’ll miss those questions a lot. I’ll miss the laughs even more.
Reporter, USA Today
The media industry lost an important part of its collective conscience with the passing of John Higgins. He was a guy who every day proved the power of journalism – and showed us all what can be accomplished when you meld a sharp mind and a quick wit with a thirst for the truth (not to mention a keen ability to shape a phrase). Higgins will be sorely missed.
Brainerd Communications Inc.
In times of grief, one never knows who will provide the most comforting words. For me, one of those people was John Higgins. After my first child was stillborn in 2001, Higgins truly understood how painful the loss was because his sister's child had also passed away at birth. He regularly checked in to see how I was doing, and I never forgot his kindness during that time.
On a more humorous note, I saw John shortly after that loss. In his attempt to give me an extra big hug hello, we somehow ended up accidentally smooching on the lips. Another unforgettable Higgins incident! He was a wonderful, caring person who died too young. My condolences to his wife—may she take comfort in all these fond remembrances of John.
The television industry's top news stories, analysis and blogs of the day.
Thank you for signing up to Broadcasting & Cable. You will receive a verification email shortly.
There was a problem. Please refresh the page and try again.