The name Paul Guggenheimer might sound familiar to many Pittsburghers. From radio to print to stage, Paul has certainly kept busy in his journalism and acting career.
And his hard work has paid off on both a personal and professional level. Behind the Byline readers know we always like to ask our reporter friends what their most memorable story has been. In our interview, Paul shares some of his favorite memories, including interviews with WWII veterans, Graham Nash and the family members of the Tree of Life victims, which earned him and his team a national award and Emmy nomination.
Keep reading to learn more about Paul’s journalism and acting career, check out some of his stories and find out why he has an admiration for Orson Welles.
Let’s start with the basics. Where are you from and where did you go to school?
I was born in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, and my parents moved to Highland Park when I was 3 years old. After graduating from Peabody High School, I went to Emerson College in Boston to study communications.
What made you decide to become a reporter?
As a kid, I was enamored with TV and radio. I was a sports geek and read the paper every day. This is what opened up the idea of a career in performing arts and journalism. As I grew older, I became passionate about telling a good story well.
Tell us about your journalism career. Where did you get your start?
After moving back to Pittsburgh in 2012, I hosted WESA’s former talk show, “Essential Pittsburgh,” and later joined KQV Radio before it went off the air. After my five-year run in radio, I began freelancing for the Trib and was grateful to be offered a full-time position as a general assignment reporter.
You also have an impressive theater career on the side. Tell us more.
I began dabbling in acting in college and, since then, I’ve enjoyed working with several theaters in Pittsburgh including the Bricolage, Pittsburgh Playwrights, The Heritage Players, Prime Stage Theater and We Are One Body® Audio Theatre.
My roles have included O’Brien in “1984” and Professor Pierson in “The War of the Worlds.” I’ve also played Atticus Finch and Mr. Gilmer, the prosecutor, in “To Kill a Mockingbird.” That time in particular was a memorable show because I had to juggle both my theater and journalism duties on Election Day – I got three hours of sleep that night. I also had an opportunity to perform for Mary Badham, the actress who played Jean Louise “Scout” Finch in the “To Kill a Mockingbird” film, when she came to see the final performance of that show.
Can you shed some light on the Trib’s editorial process? Do you typically pitch stories or are you assigned stories?
It’s a combination of both, but as reporters, we are encouraged to come up with ideas. That’s one of the great things I love about the Trib – you’re very supported in writing stories that interest you or stories you believe are important for the community to know about.
What kinds of stories intrigue you?
Most reporters at the Trib don’t have a particular beat or specialty – besides the sports writers – but I tend to do stories that have a historical nature. For example, at the beginning of August, I wrote a story about the 75th anniversary of the atomic bomb. I had an opportunity to interview veterans, and I learned these men were dreading the fight in Japan.
I love when you can talk to people who have experienced an important historic event, especially as our war heroes get older. I feel a sense of duty to share their stories while they’re still able to. Some of my other stories include the 40th anniversary of the accident at Three Mile Island, the 75th anniversary of D-Day and the 50th anniversary of the murder of Jock Yablonski.
What is one of your most memorable stories?
I worked with several of my Trib colleagues to put together a documentary for the one-year observance of the Tree of Life shooting. How do you tell the story of the worst anti-Semitic attack in U.S. history one year later?
We felt it was important for people to get to know the victims. We heard their names, but what should be known about them? How can we tell their stories and honor them? It was a true honor for us to tell that story.
We talked to several groups of people, including survivors, family members of the victims and community leaders, to uncover what needs to happen in our society to prevent something like this from happening again. Families are in pain and will always be in pain because of it, so we wanted to get the story right. We spent a lot of time putting the documentary together, so we were happy by how it was received by the public.
As journalists, this is the type of story you sign up for. It’s our job to take a difficult story, encourage people to share a very difficult experience and help people understand their trauma. That’s why it was so gratifying to be recognized by our industry peers. The Society of Professional Journalists honored us with a national award for the best online video – a major accomplishment, especially when your competition includes The New York Times, L.A. Times and other major city papers. We were also nominated for an Emmy by the Mid-Atlantic Emmy Awards.
How has COVID-19 changed the editorial focus at the Trib?
It is part of our job to cover it, but the challenge has been finding stories to tell in a fresh perspective while covering stories from a distance. One of the most memorable interviews I did was with Graham Nash, which was a really exciting moment for me in my career. An intimate interview like that isn’t possible during a pandemic, but I’ve been able to conduct some of my interviews through Skype and Zoom. That’s how I was able to conduct a lot of my interviews as part of the Trib’s Answering the Call series.
In September, we’re planning to roll out a new series called Uniquely Pittsburgh, which will feature iconic Pittsburgh people and places. Keep an eye out for that later this month!
Besides writing and acting, what else do you like to do in your spare time?
I’m still a sports geek, so it’s been hard to not watch my favorite Pittsburgh sports teams during the pandemic or play hockey with my adult league in Mt. Lebanon. Since I love old movies, I spent a lot of the quarantine re-watching some of my favorite films, such as “Casablanca” and “The Maltese Falcon.” I also have a fascination with Orson Welles, so I recently watched “The Lady from Shanghai” and “Touch of Evil.” I admire all of the mediums he’s conquered – from movies, to stage, radio, TV and newspaper, he’s mastered them all.
– Robin Rectenwald, WordWrite