“What can we put on the air that will get people to watch?”
Michels describes how the media landscape has changed dramatically since he became a journalist fifty years ago. As well as anchoring the KQED show “Express” and working on “Evening Edition” with Belva Davis, Michels has been a PBS correspondent and now also contributes to KQED’s latest news show, KQED Newsroom with Thuy Vu and Scott Shafer.
Before our video interview, Michels shared a poignant memory from his childhood; an experience that helped plant the seeds for his journey in journalism. He recalls being a child in San Francisco during the Second World War.
“I was without my father for the first three grades in school…it was tough,” says Michels. “I still remember the day that my father returned from the war. It was very dramatic. He drove up in a car. I was at school on the second or third floor and there he was. I was eight years old and hadn’t seen him in three years.”
I asked Michels to describe the scene.
“I did run down and I did embrace him on the street. It was an emotional experience…I’m sure there were tears,” says Michels. “After that, everything changed.”
Those three years were formative for Michels, who went on to explore the world during a remarkable career in journalism. After working for PBS NewsHour as a national correspondent for 30 years, he was laid off last year during a major cost cutting exercise. As weekend anchor, Hari Sreenivasan recently explained to Jon Stewart on the Daily Show, “facts are expensive.” That is, doing intelligent, original journalism doesn’t come cheap, especially in the Bay Area.
It’s a tongue in cheek, behind the scenes look at the work of a PBS NewsHour correspondent. The low budget, goofy juxtaposition between Goldbloom and his demanding PBS NewsHour producer, Jordan Smith, is downright hilarious at times. On air Introductions by news heavyweights like Judy Woodruff, Gwen Ifill and Hari Sreenivasan lend gravitas to the whole endeavor. PBS NewsHour hopes it will help to capture the exodus of its audience from television to online streaming and grab more younger viewers in the process. It looks like a winning formula.
At Fresh Dialogues, I’m used to getting Fresh Answers, but as you’ll see in this interview, I also got some unsolicited media tips from a pro.
Michels was too kind to comment on my excessive head nodding, but I will definitely be working on that.
Fidel Castro, Muhammad Ali, Gloria Steinem. These are just a few of the icons that pioneering journalist Belva Davis has interviewed in over fifty years of reporting. This weekend, Davis receives the John F. Hogan Distinguished Service Award from the Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA) in Los Angeles.
Davis began her illustrious career in the 1950’s; became the first black woman to anchor the news on the West Coast and was host of KQED’s public affairs program, This Week in Northern California for almost 20 years. She talked to Fresh Dialogues this summer in Los Altos about why she admires PBS Newshour’s history making Judy Woodruff and Gwen Ifill; her memoir; and the need for both curiosity and passion in a successful career. Davis also explains her need to prove herself every day. “Go home if you don’t feel some sense of gratitude for the next day’s possibilities,” she says.
ALISON VAN DIGGELEN: Hello and welcome to Fresh Dialogues. Today I’m with pioneering journalist, Belva Davis. She has a new book and it’s called Never In My Wildest Dreams. Belva, thank you for joining me today.
BELVA DAVIS: Well thank you. This is a wonderful opportunity.
ALISON VAN DIGGELEN: So let’s talk about those wildest dreams. When did you feel your wildest dreams were coming true?
BELVA DAVIS: Definitely I know when I decided that this reckless course was the one I was going to take, and that is to try to break into television news reporting. And to do that without having an example of anyone that looked even slightly like me who was doing it, I think took quite a commitment, to say I’ll do what’s necessary…
ALISON VAN DIGGELEN: …And a lot of courage. So you really had no role models. Today we talk about role models and we can emulate this person or that. You had no one?
BELVA DAVIS: No one.
ALISON VAN DIGGELEN: If you were to go back to being 30 or 40 years old, what advice would you give yourself?
BELVA DAVIS: I always tell people, if you are not doing…Number one: if you don’t have curiosity about what you’ve chosen to do with your life, and if you don’t have passion for what you say you want to do with your life, you should keep looking.
ALISON VAN DIGGELEN: Right, so passion and curiosity. They’re both really important.
BELVA DAVIS: Right, because one keeps you going, and wanting to know more about what you’re doing. By wanting to know more, then you get better. You don’t just sit there from wherever point you entered whatever arena you’re in. And you have to have passion to give the extra time. You can’t just do something that at 5 o’clock you turn off a key. That just doesn’t work.
ALISON VAN DIGGELEN: And what about today? For young aspiring journalists, who are the good female role models today? Who would you point to and say: she’s got it right. She’s nailing it. Is there anyone you tune into?
BELVA DAVIS: (Laughter) I love everybody…
ALISON VAN DIGGELEN: You don’t want to pick favorites?
BELVA DAVIS: I wouldn’t put them in the “young girl category” but they’re both really intelligent, smart, good reporters and I admire them.
ALISON VAN DIGGELEN: Yes
BELVA DAVIS: I’ve long…as a young woman…Soledad O’Brien I think has been a brave woman, you know raising her children and taking these really dangerous assignments. So, they’re still out there.
ALISON VAN DIGGELEN: I saw that wonderful interview with you and Judy Woodruff and you said something that really made me pause because there you are, you’ve been doing this for 50 years, and you said “I feel I still have to prove myself every day.”
BELVA DAVIS: Yes…I do.
ALISON VAN DIGGELEN: Talk about that. What is it that’s driving you? You don’t feel that hey, I’ve interviewed Muhammad Ali, I’ve interviewed Fidel Castro, I’ve interviewed…presidents…
BELVA DAVIS: You should go home when you don’t have anybody else you want to interview. You should go home when you can’t feel some sense of gratitude for the next day’s possibilities. The next day’s possibilities are what keeps you going forward. I mean if she (Sheryl Sandberg) talks “leaning in,” that keeps you going. Just realizing what could be, if you just do a little more, push a little harder, give someone else an opportunity.
ALISON VAN DIGGELEN: Wonderful, Belva Davis. We’ll leave it on that note. Thank you so much for taking time for Fresh Dialogues.
I was very honored to be included in such an illustrious collection. If you missed my interview at the Computer History Museum in January 2013, here’s the video.
And here’s some feedback from across the web:
“I am impressed with your ease and confidence and the way you were able to lead Musk with charm and fluency and keep the flow of the interview crisp and vital — in a word alive! Good work & warm congratulations.” Michael Krasny, Host KQED’s Forum
“Having seen every single video of Elon Musk, what I really apppreciated was that the interviewer prefaced her questions with content from Elon’s more practiced answers, so we saved a lot of time and just jumped into a ton of new information never mentioned in other interviews. Very good interviewer. 10/10!” Maximus Victorius on YouTube
“Loved the program. Alison conveyed a mastery of the subject, and the vocal counterpart was delicious. Perhaps the best interview I have heard.” Steve Jurvetson, Silicon Valley Venture Capitalist
“Alison really captured his charm and warmth and aspirations in a lovely way. He seemed more at ease and willing to be honest with Alison than in any interview I have seen him in. Her questions were excellent, and she was so articulate and poised on stage.” Laurie Yoler, a Tesla investor who was part of the 500-strong live audience.
“This is an example of my favorite kind of interview, the journalist asks well thought questions and then sits back and lets the subject tell the story.” Tyra Robertson, Elon Enthusiast
“I love how knowledgeable the interviewer is. It really opens up different answers from Elon that I haven’t heard a million times.” AlphacentauriAB on Reddit
Tesla Motors released its first batch of all electric Model S sedans today. The cars are actually built – not just assembled – at the Tesla Factory in high priced Silicon Valley. The company’s CEO, Elon Musk, says he’s creating “the greatest car company of the 21st Century,” yet despite the hoopla, Tesla is one of the most shorted stocks on the Nasdaq. Will this ambitious entrepreneur – who led the successful SpaceX mission to the international space station last month – prove detractors wrong again?
I visited the factory on June 14 and Gilbert Passin, VP of Manufacturing at Tesla gave me a fascinating two hour tour. He explained the process of making a Model S, from the stamping shop, where huge hydraulic press machines stamp sheets of aluminum into 3-dimensional fenders, hood panels, doors, and roofs; to the quality testing where the paint work is meticulously checked and recycled water is used to test each model’s watertightness.
At the stamping shop, Passin says, “These parts are extremely critical because it’s like the foundation of what makes a good car…See the robot is actually picking up the part in slow motion to make sure that everything works well…you don’t want anything to break.”
Shiny red robots and red T-shirt clad employees work hard at the factory: stamping, assembling, welding, painting and testing. The release of the first ten Model S Sedans is a big milestone for this innovative company. We talk to Charles James Lambert, who is a team leader working on the stylish and unique door handles Tesla manufactures at the factory. “I’m building a door handle that’s going on something fabulous to me: the model S…so sexy to me, the car, right?” he says. “That we have a door handle that responds. It’s pure elegance to me.”
Steve Jurvetson, a Tesla board member, snagged the very first prelaunch Model S (Elon Musk had to wait for number 2) and raves about it with the wide-eyed glee of a teenager describing his first set of wheels. “It’s kind of like driving in a hyper space portal to the future…” says Jurvetson.
Yet this futuristic car, that accelerates 0-60 in 4.4 seconds, does so in a whisper, not a roar. Jurvetson argues that silent is better. “It’s like saying I sleep better when there’s industrial noise going on outside my house, really?” he says and suggests that for drivers who miss the roar of an internal combustion engine, downloadable sounds might be the answer… “People can make it sound like whatever you want. You know, Harley Davidson: “huff pwuffpwuff pwuff.” Fine…just dial it up…blast your ears out…who cares?” he says.
Jurvetson, a Silicon Valley venture capitalist, sincerely believes that all vehicles will be electric one day and Tesla will lead the way. “I love what it represents: emblem of the future and a symbolic step towards a oil-free economy.”
The Model S is phase two of Elon Musk’s masterplan to disrupt the car industry and create efficient sustainable transportation. In 2008, Tesla released the Roadster, a high-end electric sports car priced at over$100,000. With the Model S, Tesla has made a more affordable car, and a year or two after its Model X comes out in 2013, aims to produce a 3rd generation model for $30,000. An electric car “for the masses.” Tesla has already catalyzed an industry shift. Today most major car companies are releasing electric or hybrid models. “Even some of the biggest competitors – the gas burning giants of the past – have admitted that they kicked off their electric vehicle program because they saw what Tesla did,” says Jurvetson. “Management said: this little company in CA is doing it, why can’t we?”
Tesla may be a trailblazer, but it faces a bumpy road ahead. Those shorting the stock (betting that the stock will fall in value on the Nasdaq) have a bearish reaction to Tesla’s high debt levels, tough competition and uncertain prospects for mass-market adoption. But it’s more than just the scrappy startup -the Millennium Falcon (Star Wars)- against the Empire (GM, Ford et al). Damon Lavrinc, Transportation Editor for Wired Magazine explains, “The established players don’t like to be challenged on their own home surf.”
He argues that to succeed, Tesla must address both range anxiety and charging time challenges. Price is also an issue. The 150-mile range car may have a base price of $50,000 after federal rebates. But for the fully loaded 300-mile range model, you’ll pay closer to $100,000. California buyers also get a state rebate ($2500) plus those precious carpool stickers. “Once we can get that price of entry lower, once we can get that battery capacity larger, that’s when it’s really going to take off,” says Damon Lavrinc. So far, Tesla has 10,000 reservations for the Model S and will deliver about half this year, ramping up to 20,000 in 2013, if the orders continue to come.
Experts compare it to the BMW 5 Series, but Tesla’s VP of Manufacturing explains its edge. “We’ll change the world by bringing a product that’s extremely efficient, very clean for theplanet, extremely fast, extremely comfortable…extremely beautiful,” says Passin. But Tesla has to get it right the first time, there’s no room for error.
Back in the Tesla Factory, at the end of our tour, Passin explains, “The car has to be finished, has to be perfect, the people working here know this is the end of the line, so it has to be good.” Although these challenges seem formidable, Elon Musk is attacking them like a true tech superhero, channeling the wild ambition of Steve Jobs and his obsessive search for perfection. Musk reportedly works 80-90 hours a week, splitting his time between Tesla and his space exploration company, SpaceX. Elon Musk was reportedly the inspiration for the Iron Man movies. “He may have superpowers, I don’t know,” says Passin, chuckling.
Last month, Musk proved naysayers wrong with his historic SpaceX Mission to the international space station. Can he do the same for the Electric Vehicle market? So much depends upon the successful launch of the Model S sedan. Damon Lavrinc of Wired Magazine sums up what’s at stake: “It’s not just so much a make or break it for Tesla, it is very much a make or break it for the entire electric vehicle industry.”
On Monday, I checked out the very first Tesla Model S at Sandhill Road, Silicon Valley. Steve Jurvetson, a Tesla board member is the proud owner.
Hoping for a splendid drive along 280, I was disappointed when Jurvetson said he’d promised the Tesla team that there’d be no test drives until the official release on June 22nd. Not even a wee tour around the parking lot.
But I did get a detailed tour of the car’s interior and will be reporting more details soon about Jurvetson’s car and my fascinating two-hour tour of the Tesla Factory, here and on NPR’s KQED radio.
You’ll notice that there’s no tailpipe on the car. All electric, zero emissions.
Note the acceleration patterns. The Model S generates electricity when you take your foot off the gas pedal.