Capital Tonight's Tim Boyum on the future of news, journalistic fairness, and Frying Pan Tower
Tim Boyum has a 20-year career in political journalism. He is the political anchor for Spectrum News One and host of Capital Tonight. He also publishes the weekly podcast Tying it Together with Tim Boyum, as well as, the monthly show Front Porch Politics, which he describes as a "combination of 60 Minutes and CBS Sunday Morning News."
WUNC Capitol Bureau Chief Jeff Tiberii interviewed Boyum for the WUNC Politics Podcast. Below are some excerpts of that conversation, edited for clarity and length.
JT: What is the best part about your job right now?
TB: It's really exciting to try to figure out these new ways to get to audiences. And to get people that are sick and tired of politics the way it is today interested in again. I use this analogy a lot: It's like zucchini bread, you make something that tastes so good, and you give it to your kids and they love it. They don't realize they're getting vegetables. So I'm trying to make zucchini bread for North Carolinians, when they're sick and tired of politics so that they'll still get it.
JT: What is your audience like? Who's consuming your political coverage?
TB: I don't have all the data that I look at all the time, but I think we're all reaching the same audience. It's unfortunate, in a lot of ways, but it's not unusual for centuries of news. It's been older folks that that watch this stuff. And so, yeah, we fight that, but we're also trying to reach younger audiences, because they're our future customers, right? Future listeners and viewers. And so we work hard at trying to reach those. And that's that's the challenge, though, because I've got a 12-year-old that knew about the Amber Heard-Johnny Depp trial, because of TikTok. He knew more about it than I did. So that's what we're looking at toward the future of journalism.
JT: What is the hardest element or challenge with your job right now?
TB: A lot of it is just trying to fit that all in and do it in an engaging and timely fashion that people want to do and make it the best it can be. It's hard some weeks to make all three of those shows the best that they are because you have so many. So that's part of it. But that's exciting and challenging. The hardest part is just trying to figure out our audiences, I think, and then that's something that we all share, as political journalists, no matter what the medium. We're all in the same mediums, and we're trying to figure it out. And so to figure out how to get future audiences, and to figure out which products are best for those platforms, it's probably the hardest challenge any of us face, I think.
JT: I want to draw a line of distinction between you and cable TV. To me, cable television is more partisan. I've been on your program before, and that's not my vibe of of y'all. You're a more down-the-middle-of-the-road outlet. Is that fair?
TB: That is beyond fair. We are obsessed with letting people listen to both sides. Some of the biggest criticism I get is not for being too liberal or for too conservative, it's for both-sides-ism, in allowing both sides to speak out. I'll give you an example: I did a long piece for Front Porch Politics on Lt. Governor Mark Robinson. It just happened the same weekend that the video came out of him with the comments about the LGBTQ community, and I got ridiculed by some people for that story and doing it on him. And my point to them was: This man is going to likely run for governor in 2024 and has a very good shot of winning. Do you not want to understand and know who that person is, even if you disagree with him?
JT: You recently did a special on Frying Pan tower, part of the Frying Pan Shoals in an area that's known as the graveyard of the Atlantic. I've always wanted to go, and you recently went. Tell us a little bit about what it was like, and what you took away from it.
TB: It was one of the most crazy, insane, adventures of my life. I knew it was going to be wild, and I was a little nervous, but it exceeded all expectations. It's a 25-minute helicopter ride over the ocean, and you land on this 5,000 square foot tower in the middle of the ocean. And there was a 25 mile an hour wind that day. And the whole bottom is essentially rusted out, which is a problem because it could tip over. The inside still looks like it largely did in the 60s and 70s. We slept in the same beds at Coast Guardsmen did. But it's a story of contrasts; it's unbelievably relaxing, yet unbelievably dangerous and scary. It's the past, but could it be the future. Richard Neal from Charlotte bought it at auction and is trying to make it a bed and breakfast. But there's like $2 million of fixes that it needs. I'm just so happy that I was able to do it and share it with the listeners out there because it is an icon.