Building relationships a big part of success

During a recent one-on-one interview with our politics reporter David Skolnick, Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose spoke about his possible run for U.S. Senate and the importance of the relationships he’s built through the years.

“What I have are things that can’t be bought,” LaRose said. “They have to be earned, such as deep relationships with people all over the state…”

Coincidentally, the very same day LaRose spoke on the importance of relationships, a similar message was being delivered by NBC News’ senior national political reporter Henry Gomez, who gave the local keynote address at Youngstown Press Club’s annual meeting and dinner.

Gomez, a Boardman native, got his start as a copy editor and cub reporter at the Tribune Chronicle while he still was studying journalism and political science at Youngstown State University.

As much as I’d like to take credit for his success, unfortunately, I was not the editor responsible for foreseeing Gomez’s incredible potential. At that time, I was not yet an editor. Rather, I was a reporter cranking out daily copy that, on many evenings, Gomez ended up proofreading before it saw the light of day in the morning paper.

It was a true pleasure to reconnect with Henry at the recent dinner event at Stambaugh Auditorium. He spoke fondly of the evenings he spent burning the midnight oil in the Tribune newsroom. After graduating, he went on to produce award-winning work at The Plain Dealer in Cleveland, exposing corruption and dysfunction in local government, including with his stories about disgraced and imprisoned former Cuyahoga County Commissioner Jimmy Dimora. Gomez’s series of articles on Cleveland police use-of-force was cited by the U.S. Department of Justice in its investigation of the department’s practices. Gomez later went to work at BuzzFeed News before moving on to NBC News.

He broke into the politics beat just before the 2012 election and through his career covered the presidential campaigns of Joe Biden and Pete Buttigieg.

In 2016, Gomez was assigned to cover the presidential campaign of Ohio’s then-Gov. John Kasich.

“I was covering John Kasich — and the real story was Donald Trump,” Gomez said ruefully. “You get tunnel vision when you are covering an election candidate. I wish I would have paid more attention and reported what I had heard and seen.”

He was referring, of course, to the unexpected groundswell of support for Trump and his political approach — particularly in Ohio and the Midwest.

“I am sensitive to the things I could have done better in 2016,” he said.

I believe Gomez is such a good reporter because he takes those experiences, examines them and truly learns from them.

“I still love this job,” Gomez said. “It’s a job where you can learn something different every day. At what other job can you say that?”

Among those lessons is the value of building relationships.

In fact, he said he lives by the best advice he ever got from an editor: “Don’t be (a jerk).” (Full disclosure — that’s the cleaned-up version.)

But no matter how it is worded, the lesson has served him well. In fact, that simple approach generally would serve well all journalists — and, really, all human beings.

Gomez said he learned early on about the value of connections with people — all people, that is, not just people who are somebody big. You make those connections by remaining humble and treating people with kindness. It’s a philosophy that, sadly, fewer and fewer people seem to adopt these days. Undoubtedly, Gomez’s humility (which might just come with his Mahoning Valley upbringing) has helped shape his career and his life.

So, now, as we roll toward 2024, Gomez says he likely will be assigned to cover the anticipated presidential run of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Gomez admits he expects to be challenged by the assignment, considering DeSantis’ apparent dislike of corporate media.

Access to this presidential campaign assignment might take more than Gomez’s midwest kindness. It also likely will take the help of the strong bonds — both political and personal — that he has built.

Knowing Henry, I suspect those bonds are quite numerous.


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