Virginia Congressman Gerry Connolly and Kathleen Matthews, a former WJLA anchor who ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. House of Representatives last year, were guests on Monday’s News Talk with Bruce DePuyt on News Channel 8, one of the last broadcasts of the show, which was recently canceled.
The first days of President Trump’s administration and the Women’s March on the National Mall were among the topics that Connolly and Matthews discussed with DePuyt. They also praised him for the way that he has hosted the program since it first aired on News Channel 8 in 2002.
“Great to be with a former colleague,” Matthews told DePuyt at the beginning of her segment. “Congratulations on your 14 years here with News Talk.”
“Thank you very much,” said DePuyt in response to Matthews’ compliment. “It’s been a really fabulous run.”
Sinclair Broadcast Group, which purchased News Channel 8 and WJLA from Allbritton Communications in 2014, notified DePuyt on Jan. 10 that his contract had not been renewed. He also learned that News Talk had been cancelled.
Long-time WJLA anchor Maureen Bunyan and Alex Parker, the stations’ executive sports editor who hosts Sports Talk on News Channel 8, are among those who have also been let go in recent weeks.
A spokesperson for WJLA and News Channel 8 did not return the Washington Blade’s request for comment on News Talk’s cancellation. DePuyt’s last broadcast is scheduled to take place on Jan. 31.
DePuyt, 55, joined News Channel 8 in 1993 as a general assignment reporter.
He covered the Maryland State House, politics in Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties and transportation, among other things. News Talk first aired on Dec. 10, 2002.
DePuyt’s first guests were then-Maryland Gov. Bob Ehrlich and then-Lieutenant Gov. Michael Steele, who were elected roughly a month earlier. DePuyt told the Blade on Monday during an interview after News Talk aired that he “discovered” Steele, who was chair of the Republican National Committee from 2009-2011, in the late 1990s when he was the head of the Republican Central Committee for Prince George’s County.
“I was covering Prince George’s County politics and I was interviewing all these Democrats and I started thinking what can I do to get some different voices into my reporting,” recalled DePuyt. “I found out this guy named Michael Steele is trying to breathe some life into the party. I called him up, interviewed him and literally I was the first person to ever put him on TV.”
Local issues ‘the sweet spot for us’
DePuyt told the Blade that he estimates 11,000 guests have appeared on the 3,300 episodes of News Talk that have aired over the last 14 years. He described transportation, land use, education and other non-political local issues are “in many ways the sweet spot for us.”
“There’s not a lot of coverage of those issues, but they’re very important in terms of people’s lives,” said DePuyt.
“This is one of the most dynamic communities anywhere,” he added. “At a minimum we are looking at 4 million people and there is a tendency for those issues to be crowded out by what’s happening at the national level just because of the sexiness of national politics.”
Former D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray and former D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier are among the myriad former and current local officials who have frequently appeared on News Talk. DePuyt said he also sought to have a variety of viewpoints on News Talk.
“I’ve tried to use the platform of News Talk as sort of a shared opportunity,” he told the Blade. “It might have my name on the door, but I wanted viewers and candidates for office, not just incumbents, and people with different approaches to land use or transportation or whatever to be able to put their idea out there and get it into the bloodstream and to see if it would take root.”
“I wanted people to have their shot at a platform where others would hear that,” added DePuyt.
Many D.C. reporters also had their first television appearances on News Talk.
“There are reporters out there who are doing shoe leather reporting who are really knowledgeable about important things who aren’t big names,” said DePuyt. “They’re less likely to get the call to go to do radio or TV, but I see their work and I know what they’re doing.”
LGBT issues frequent topic on News Talk
DePuyt grew up in Ridgewood, N.J., which is roughly 25 miles northwest of Midtown Manhattan.
DePuyt came out during his sophomore year at the University of Maryland in College Park in the early 1980s. He told the Blade he initially wanted to become a sportscaster, but he decided to focus on news because it involved less travel and no coverage of games with “lopsided” scores.
“I guess maybe in the back of my mind, given that this was the 80s, I didn’t know whether a gay man could be a sportscaster,” said DePuyt.
DePuyt told the Blade he couldn’t “really think of” any examples of discrimination that he has faced during his career because of his sexual orientation.
National Organization for Marriage President Brian Brown, former NOM President Maggie Gallagher and former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli are among the opponents of LGBT rights who have appeared on News Talk. Former GetEQUAL Co-Director Heather Cronk and myriad local advocates have also been guests.
“We’ve had people across the spectrum,” said DePuyt.
He told the Blade that people “in this region are really smart and really sophisticated.” DePuyt added “it’s great to know that you can put” information on LGBT-specific issues “out there and let people decide for themselves.”
“People listen and they see and they hear,” he said. “I don’t need to tell them what they just heard.”
DePuyt told the Blade the massacre at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla., on June 12, 2016, that left 49 people dead and dozens of others injured is one of the more difficult stories he has covered.
He and his partner were at church when the minister received a text message about the shooting and made an announcement before the closing prayer. DePuyt nearly became emotional on air the following morning when he was speaking with this reporter who had called into News Talk from Orlando.
“I remember that one because it did hit home,” said DePuyt. “It hit home more on air.”
DePuyt is ‘one of the best’
Connolly is among those who have praised DePuyt and expressed disappointment over News Talk’s cancellation.
“To take it off the air is a huge loss,” Connolly told the Blade on Monday after he appeared on News Talk.
“Bruce is one of the best,” she told the Blade. “He asks tough questions, he gives a fair read of the political landscape and he has always been an impartial reporter.”
Ken Jost, author of the “Supreme Court Yearbook” and a blogger at Jost on Justice, also appears regularly on News Talk.
He described DePuyt as “a complete professional” who was “always knowledgeable, always fair and balanced.”
“He asked good questions and gave every guest the time to try to give good answers,” Jost told the Blade. “It’s a real loss for everyone in the viewing area to lose this program.”
Considering post-News Talk options
Tom Sherwood and Mark Segraves of NBC Washington are hosting a reception in DePuyt’s honor at the Midlands Beer Garden (3333 Georgia Ave., N.W.) on Feb. 2.
In the meantime, DePuyt told the Blade that he is looking to take some time off after his last show. He said he doesn’t know what he will do after that.
“I feel like I have a real skill at doing this,” said DePuyt. “But the question is I’m 55, would I be better served having a different experience going forward. And I think the answer to that may be yes.”