Paul Crawley retires from 11 Alive after 36 years

Last week was busy and I was terribly remiss not including this bit of news about a veteran news reporter: 11 Alive's Paul Crawley retired last week after 36 years with the NBC affiliate, an impressively long run.

As Doug Richards, his colleague at 11 Alive, posted on his blog "Live Apartment Fire," he said Crawley was incredibly prepared every morning "with the best array of story ideas."

"His anecdotes from our industry, told during slow moments at trials, stakeouts, legislative hearings and in the newsroom, nearly always came with wry insight or a belly laugh or both," Richards wrote. "His execution and professionalism are top-drawer."

He wrote more than 10,000 stories and outlasted 11 news directors and seven general managers, according to an 11 Alive story about him. Julie Wolfe, a colleague, wrote this about him: "He never told the same story the same way. He always found a way to reach through the television, grab you by the lapels and make you watch. He made important stories interesting and tragic stories bearable. It's impossible to know how many of us he inspired to become journalists; I just know I'm one of them."

UPDATE: In an interview Monday evening, he said this was 100 percent his decision. At age 62, "this was totally my choice," he said. "I had enough."

Crawley said he realized it was time when he was covering the second Atlanta snowstorm in two weeks in early February this year. "I was at a Waffle House shaving, shooting my own video," he said. He said his feelings were the same as those of Channel 2 Action News' Jeff Dore, who retired in March after 30 years at that station: this type of work was no longer energizing. It was just tiring.

He said 11 Alive's bosses were very kind to him. When he warned them two years ago after signing his last contract that he might retire in 2014, they said he can stay as long as he wants. Even when his contract expired in May, they offered for him to stay part time or as a freelancer. He said no but he did stick around two more months as they sought to fill his slot.

"We left on amiable terms," Crawley said. "The way things are going I may as well leave on my own terms."

Crawley looked at his finances and figured he could make it (a pension from Gannett helped), with just a little part time work. He hasn't decided if he'll do voice over work or similar work but he is sure he won't do news reporting any more.

He also could indulge in his love of cars.

"I"m not a bad mechanic," he said. "I have a friend who works on muscle cars." (Crawley is a Mustang fan.)

While Crawley admits he has been able to adjust in a world of social media and 24/7 news online, he calls it "ADD hell."  He feels all the time spent promoting his stories and being his own camera man and editor "has watered down the product" because he doesn't spend as much time as he used to doing meat and potatoes reporting.

Crawley said he didn't dream of being a broadcaster growing up. Rather, he was a theater guy who tried to break into acting but found it easier to get a job in Raleigh on TV in the 1970s. Dick Williams, a former AJC editor who is now part of Fox's "The Georgia Gang," hired Crawley at 11 Alive in 1978 when he was the news director.

"His longevity is a testament to his reliability and steadiness," said Williams. "He's a fireman. He can cover anything thrown at him any given day."

The hard-nosed reporter covered the Wayne Williams child murder case (when 11 Alive ran out of space, he took the 30,000-page case file, which is still in his  home), suffered through every major storm in Atlanta going back to the disco era and interviewed every president going back to Gerald Ford. He has ridden on the back of a garbage truck. He's gone skydiving. He's been scuba diving.

"I'm one of the dangerous people who knows an awful little about an awful lot," he said. "I can talk for five minutes on any topic!"

One thing he enjoyed was immersing himself in another person's profession and different aspects of society. "I love jargon," he said. "Every profession has its own. Picking up on people's jargon is a little hobby of mine."

Crawley came into the business during the glow of Woodward and Bernstein's Watergate revelations. "Reporters were superheroes," he said, "not that I ever thought I was. If anything, I always had a fear and awe of what we do. One misspoken word and we can destroy a person's reputation, destroy their business. There's no taking it back... Ninety percent of the people we put in front of the camera any given day don't wake up that morning expecting to have a camera in their face that day. It's a big deal for them. That's one thing I always tried to remember. It's just a job for us."

Watching the send-off video below, his hair goes from dark brown to bright white over three-plus decades. "I started turning gray in my 40s," he said. "It happened quickly. I attributed it a great deal to stress. It shows. My father's hair didn't turn white until his 60s!"

He never used hairspray or dye. His thick head of hair has always been no fuss, no muss. "TV hair," he mused. "My wife hates how easy I have it!"

Other recent 11 Alive news:

8/2: Exclusive: Sportscaster Sam Crenshaw let go from 11 Alive after 16 years

8/1: Vinnie Politan plans to bring energy, legal expertise to new morning show "Atlanta

7/16: Vinnie Politan to lead 11 Alive morning show; Karyn Greer moves to daytime

7/2 Former 11 Alive meteorologist Mike Francis joins real estate

7/9: Chris Holcomb named chief meteorologist

6/16: Exclusive: Vinnie Politan leaving HLN for 11 Alive

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About the Author

Rodney Ho
Rodney Ho
Rodney Ho covers radio and television for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
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