WBAL’s Mark Miller: The Best of Competence, Judgment and Ethics

–Richard E. Vatz

Mark Miller, director of news and programming at WBAL-Radio, is (voluntarily) leaving his current job, and I wanted to say a few words about the only non-political guest speaker I have had regularly in my classes for over a decade.

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The dimensions in which Mark excels are competence, judgment and ethics. In innumerable appearances in my advanced Media Criticism class, Mark has informed my students of more valuable news media information — including choices of what to cover and how to cover it — in 75 minutes’ time than I can do in five such classes on my best days. The students come to life and ask some of their best questions about his work, their opportunities and media controversies.

The key to a good lecture is preparation, articulation and responsiveness, and Mark is one of the best I have seen in a classroom on all of these counts. But he is not a teacher by trade. I wonder why he has not been a college professor, but let’s just say the pay is not tremendously comparable.

Mark’s description of media situations in which he has been involved reveal a tremendously sophisticated sense of ethics. Repeatedly he has college seniors transfixed by complex stories of media investigation and their ethical foundations and resonance. Listening to them is like listening to a detective story wherein Scotland Yard carries on with its impeccable sense of duty.

I want to print the introduction I gave to Mark for his most recent appearance in my Mass Communication (Media Criticism) class. As Henry Kissinger would say, “It has the advantage of being true.”

Introduction of Mark Miller at Towson University, April 26, 2011

Mark Miller is a 1980 Magna Cum Laude graduate of Towson (State) University with a Mass Comm B.S. degree. A mainstay at WBAL-Radio since 1979. He has won an extraordinary number of awards for reporting. He was made News Director in 1990 and it was under his tutelage that he and the WBAL Radio’s news department have won an impressive cavalcade of awards, including years ago the Award of Excellence, the highest award for Associated Press broadcasters, for the reporting on the fall of the late, not-very-great city Comptroller Jackie McLean.

WBAL has long been the gold standard in excellence and credibility in Baltimore news. In 2008 Mr. Miller spoke to The Radio-Television News Directors Association (RTNDA) which presents the [Edward R.] Murrow Awards, accepting the award for Overall Excellence for WBAL Radio as the nation’s top radio news operation. WBAL in fact that year won multiple awards, including those for News Documentary and News Series. WBAL has won several Murrow Awards as the nation’s top radio news operation. In fact “under his leadership, the WBAL News Department has won” nearly a score of national Edward R. Murrow awards.

Moreover, WBAL Radio has also been honored as Baltimore’s best radio news operation by the Associated Press.

Just over a week ago, I believe, as reported by David Zurawik of The Baltimore Sun, WBAL-AM dominated this year with five Murrow Awards in categories ranging from breaking news to best website.

In 2009 a favorite WBAL personage of mine, vice president and station manager Jeff Beauchamps, under whom WBAL had won a nation-leading 19 local station Edward R. Murrow awards, left the station, and Mark Miller is one of the main reasons that excellence has continued. He was named director of News and Programming last year.

In various years WBAL has been the only radio station to win multiple first-place honors in those awards and has been the radio station to capture the most awards of any station in the country.

In 2010 WBAL and John Patti won yet another Edward R. Murrow award for their excellent 14-hour news series, “Christmas in Maryland,” a series which spanned the state on a variety of celebrations of the holiday celebration in Maryland. Last year as well, Baltimore Magazine named Mark Miller as one of the four most powerful media personages in Baltimore. There is much more, but most significant, I believe, is the fact that Mark Miller’s news department has also won the heretofore unknown but surely coveted “Vatz Award” for Sophisticated Political reportage and Talk Show Excellence, notwithstanding my own periodic participation on WBAL over the years. Their political talk show hosts Ron Smith and C-4 are as prepared and sophisticated as any hosts I have ever heard on the airwaves.

For years if you liked comprehensive and sophisticated analysis of local news, you could hear Mark Miller’s report on the news of the week, a report, parenthetically, that I think was the clearest, most cogent reporting of its kind I had ever heard, on Saturday Mornings on WBAL at 7:20 a.m. But, alas, a more important event interceded with that reportage. Mr. Miller’s most significant accomplishment: he is the father of a little girl, Merrilee, which dad-dom, according to his colleagues, has mellowed him considerably, but also takes some time as we much older dads know.

Without further ado, I present you with one of the most accomplished and successful and greatest dads ever, Mark Miller.


Professor Vatz teaches Media Criticism at Towson University

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