For most of 2010 (and the two decades before) John Boel was one of Louisville’s most recognized reporters, anchoring WLKY newscasts and producing investigative reports. He was also one of the city’s most honored—70 Emmy awards, 9 Murrows and 39 first place finishes in Associated Press competitions.
That changed at the end of the year. Boel was arrested for a DUI, his second. He was fired. After a series of stories about his arrest (including several on WLKY), Boel dissapeared from local media. He entered rehab and served time on house arrest.
Now Boel is back. He’s thinner and healthier and no longer attempting to compete in Iron Man triathlons the day after drinking a case of beer. He also has a new book, On the News…In the News.
Boel stopped by Louisville Public Media last week to drop off a copy. I was most interested in the first half of the book, the “On the News” section. It’s a collection of essays about Boel’s career and some of his most notable stories. I’m not from Louisville, and I wasn’t familiar with much of Boel’s television work. I’d heard about some of the now-legendary (or now-infamous) stories he writes about, and I was eager to find the facts behind the local lore. I was surprised at the reassessment Boel goes through in the early chapters.
After becoming a news story himself, Boel rethought his life’s work. He regrets two investigative stories he did. He feels that he didn’t have just cause to more or less ruin the lives of the people he turned his camera on. But as for his investigative work in general, Boel stands by the philosophy of journalist as cop. He was criticized for sting stories, gotcha reporting and journalism that required him to go undercover. It’s a type of reporting that’s unique to television, and Boel defends it.
Boel made a lot of enemies reporting (including some rival news anchors, whom he writes about in the book), but he’s not concerned that his criminal record would provide the subjects of his stories with ammunition should he return to television. He says he doesn’t have to defend himself, he only needs to follow the principles he learned in rehab.
I spoke with Boel about his time in TV news and what he’d like to do differently if he returned to television.