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'This is an absolute dream job': Tim Skubick reflects on 50 years of 'Off the Record'

off the record
WKAR
Tim Skubick at the "Off the Record" anchor desk.

Michigan's longest statewide public affairs program is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.

Off the Record debuted on Feb. 4, 1972, with Tim Skubick at the helm. And he's still in that role today.

The half-hour-long weekly show airs every Friday and features a panel of journalists who cover the Michigan State Capitol.

WKAR’s Megan Schellong spoke with Tim Skubick to discuss the 50th anniversary of Off the Record.

Interview Highlights

On what's kept him interested in Michigan politics for 50 years

Because what I'm doing is fun. This is an absolute dream job. It really is, you know, in the current milieu of journalism, where opinions are trumping just straightforward reporting, I think there is a need for a program like Off the Record. We don't come into this program with a bias one way or the other. We do come in on behalf of the people who are watching, to try to ask those questions that they would ask to give them information that they can use.

On the criticism he receives in interviewing politicians

As you know, the journalist’s job is to play devil's advocate. So if I have a consummate conservative sitting across the table from me, I'm going to ask questions from a different perspective to draw them out, and vice versa, if there's a liberal. ... So, you know, my job is to ask the tough questions and not worry about how people respond. If I'm doing my job, I’m doing it and let the chips fall where they may.

On whether he sees a 55th anniversary of Off the Record in the cards

Oh, absolutely. Look at, I am not going anywhere. This is not 50 and out. No, no, we're gonna ride this puppy as long as we can. Because you know what, when you're blessed to be doing something that you love to do, and it is fun to do, and it is making somewhat of a contribution, there's absolutely no reason to leave it. And we're on a roll.

Transcript

Megan Schellong: This is Morning Edition on WKAR, I’m Megan Schellong.

Michigan's longest statewide public affairs program is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. Off the Record debuted February 4, 1972, with longtime anchor and senior capital correspondent Tim Skubick at the helm. And he's still in that role today.

The half-hour-long weekly show airs every Friday and features a panel of journalists who cover the state capitol.

Today, we're switching things up and putting Tim Skubick in the hot seat, Tim, thanks for joining me.

Skubick: The seat’s not hot yet. Go for it.

Schellong: So, Tim, how does it feel to be celebrating 50 years of the state's longest running public affairs program?

Skubick: Well, first of all, it's a blessing. And before we go any further, we have to give compliments and kudos to the hundreds of capitol correspondents who have done our broadcast over the last 50 years because without them, there is no Off the Record.

You can't do a commentary and analysis program with reporters covering the capitol unless you have reporters covering the capitol. So, shout out to them.

And also, a shout out to all the politicians over the years who have come on the program, which is a very challenging format.

It's basically one politician against four reporters who come at that politician oftentimes from six different ways from Sunday. And so, it makes for an interesting exchange. So, thanks to all the politicians who have also appeared on the program over these 50 years.

Schellong: Now, you mentioned that these politicians have a lot of reporters coming at them. I wanted to ask you now some of the viewers think you're too harsh on interviewees. And some viewers say not harsh enough. What do you think?

Skubick: Well, this is an interesting thing about doing media work.

First of all, as you know, the journalist’s job is to play devil's advocate.

So if I have a consummate conservative sitting across the table from me, I'm going to ask questions from a different perspective to draw them out, and vice versa, if there's a liberal. The best example that I have is former Governor John Engler, who was just an absolute hoot to cover. He was fun to cover, he was a gamer.

And we would do the program and the 10 people that liked John Engler would say, “Why were you so tough on him? Why did you, you were just so aggressive, you just came after him and it was unfair.”

And then you had the people that were not fond of Mr. Engler, and they would say, “Skubick, why did you let him off the hook? How come you didn't ask him all those tough snotty questions that you ask everybody else?”

So it's the exact same program, seen if you will, through the selective perception of the people watching the program. So, you know, my job is to ask the tough questions and not worry about how people respond. If I'm doing my job, I’m doing it and let the chips fall where they may.

Schellong: What's kept you interested in Michigan state politics for the past 50 years?

Skubick: Because what I'm doing is fun. This is an absolute dream job. It really is, you know, in the current milieu of journalism, where opinions are trumping just straightforward reporting, I think there is a need for a program like Off the Record.

We don't come into this program with a bias one way or the other.

We do come in on behalf of the people who are watching, to try to ask those questions that they would ask to give them information that they can use. Some people often say, “Skubick, why are you always telling us what to think?”

And I respond by saying, “I'm not telling you what to think I'm trying to get you to think.”

And on that mission in this current climate, I think is even more important today than it was 50 years ago because people need information in order for the democracy to work.

And if they can't get it, the democracy suffers, and so does everything else, including government.

So, part of the joy of doing this is hopefully making some small contribution to the dialogue so that people can make good choices when it comes to voting and judging that the officials that they have and whether they are doing a good job or not. I'm a conduit towards that end.

Schellong: In asking these questions, you know, week after week in the reporter panel format that you have set up with your guest speaker, are there any new approaches or formats that you're hoping to try out or do differently with the show this year?

Skubick: Now you know, when you got a winner, you stick with it. This format has worked for 50 years and if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

Schellong: You know, WKAR’s Kevin Lavery interviewed you five years ago for the 45th anniversary of Off the Record. Do you see a 55th anniversary or even 60th anniversary in the cards?

Skubick: Oh, absolutely. Look, I am not going anywhere. This is not 50 and out. No, no, we're gonna ride this puppy as long as we can.

Because you know what, when you're blessed to be doing something that you love to do, and it is fun to do, and it is making somewhat of a contribution, there's absolutely no reason to leave it. And we're on a roll.

These times are challenging. But as I just said a couple minutes ago, this is the time that I think Off the Record is needed the most. So yeah, there's going to be a 75th anniversary and I hope you’re around and we can talk then too.

Schellong: Excellent, I look forward to it.

Tim Skubick is the longtime anchor and senior capital correspondent of Off the Record.

Tim, thanks for being here.

Skubick: Great. Thank you for the opportunity.

And thanks for the work that the WKAR radio news folks are doing because you guys are making a great contribution as well.

We're all part of the same team. So let's go get them.

This interview has been edited for clarity and conciseness.

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