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City & State or ZIP Tonight, this weekend, May 5th...
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City & State or ZIP Tonight, this weekend, May 5th...
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John Pruitt’s last day at anchor desk is today at Channel 2 Action News

My colleague Bo Emerson wrote this farewell to John Pruitt, who leaves the 6 p.m. anchor desk for Channel 2 Action News for the final time today.

John-PruittAfter 46 years in the business, John Pruitt will anchor his last news broadcast Friday. He still remembers his first story.

A new arrival at WSB-TV in July, 1964, the 22-year-old Pruitt was sent to help haul equipment to a cover a speech by Mississippi Gov. Ross Barnett. Barnett’s white audience, assembled to protest the Civil Rights Act, suddenly discovered a group of black counterprotesters in their midst, and began beating them with feet, fists, and folding chairs.

The untrained Pruitt was tossed a camera and told to get film of the audience. His disturbing footage of the beating made the network news that night.

“In a strange way, it was exhilarating,” Pruitt said Tuesday as he sat at his modest cubicle in the cavernous newsroom for Channel 2 Action News at WSB’s Midtown headquarters. “You’re there. You are the instrument that brings that scene to so many others.”

With that experience, the Davidson graduate was hooked. “I thought I had found a job I could love,.” Pruitt said.

The job has kept him on the front lines of Atlanta and Georgia news and politics, from the race riots of 1964 to the Republican Revolution of 2010. In 1978 he left WSB to become the evening anchor at rival WXIA-TV, but he returned to WSB in 1994.

3501880_200X150For many Atlantans his long tenure has made Pruitt, 68, the face of television news in Atlanta, the calming yin to his co-anchor Monica Pearson’s colorful yang.

“He was a protector for me,” Pearson said as she sat in the makeup chair before Tuesday’s broadcast, and recalled the negative reactions to a black female news anchor sparked by her arrival in 1975.

In awe of Pruitt’s ability, Pearson (then called by her married name Monica Kaufman) tried to emulate his style, which she and Pruitt agree was the worst thing she could have done.

“She was always dynamic and very spontaneous, and spontaneity has never been my long suit,” said Pruitt dryly.

Pruitt’s even, unhurried style has probably tempted some news directors to double his daily dose of caffeine, but he has refused to act like anyone other than himself, a bookish Southerner with a degree in history and sleepy eyes.

“I come from a long line of dull white guys,” a joking Pruitt said, adding that was the even-keeled anchors such as David Brinkley and Walter Cronkite that he and his generation emulated.

When Pruitt rejoined WSB in 1994, Pearson was confident enough to be her excitable self, and the chemistry worked. “She hasn’t made me flamboyant, and I haven’t turned her sober-sided,” he said.

Pruitt has covered 12 political conventions, chronicled the rise of peanut farmer Jimmy Carter and watched Newt Gingrich transform himself from an obscure college professor into a national political force.

He has also narrated some of the city’s most agonizing experiences, from the missing and murdered children crisis of 1979-81 to the bombing at Centennial Olympic Park that brought Atlanta’s 1996 Olympic euphoria to a skidding halt.

Somehow, he said, Atlanta recovered and put on a great Olympics. “I love the way, when the chips are down, we seem to find a way to pick ourselves up and move ahead,” he told Condace Pressley during an interview with his sister radio station, 750 AM and now 95.5 FM. “I’m an unabashed fan of Atlanta. Now that I’m retiring I don’t have to be objective, right?”

Pruitt will continue to produce “Georgia’s Hidden Treasures” specials, in which he profiles the state’s undiscovered gems — or gems that newcomers may not have visited — such as the Okefenokee Swamp, Fort Mountain and Cumberland Island. He also has a string of speaking engagements planned and the possibility of a memoir on the horizon.

“I hope he writes a book,” said Channel 2 Action News meteorologist and fellow fly fisherman Glenn Burns.  “He has seen it all. … When he came back I thought it was the best thing that could have happened to us.”

His colleagues emphasize that Pruitt has always had a rich life outside the newsroom, and they predict he will make a seamless transition to his second act.

“That man goes too bed at 1 a.m. and he’s up in the morning making pancakes for his grandchildren,” news director Marian Pittman said.

Pruitt said he is eager to try some traveling, starting with a trip to Chile and Argentina early next year with his wife, Andrea, but he knows that he will long for the energy of daily deadlines.

“There are several things I will miss,” he said, “but what I will miss most is walking into this newsroom every day.”

The newsroom is a large complex machine, and most of its workings are invisible, Pruitt said.

“It’s been an honor to be the tip of that iceberg.”

Pruitt’s career

In his 46 years as a television reporter and anchor, John Pruitt has seen, in historian Barbara Tuchman’s phrase, “history by the inch.” The stories he covered included:

  • His first story: On July 4, 1964, during his first two weeks on the job, Pruitt was sent to cover a speech by Mississippi Gov. Ross Barnett to a group of white protesters angry about the Civil Rights Act. The group began beating several young black counterprotesters in the crowd, and Pruitt got footage that made network news. “When Ross Barnett tried to calm the crowd by singing ‘The Star Spangled Banner,’ that was surreal,” Pruitthe said. “The networks loved it.”
  • The 1968 funeral of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.: “Probably the biggest event in Atlanta since Sherman came through.”
  • The 1972 Democratic National Convention in Miami when George McGovern received the Democratic nomination for president. Pruitt remembers “wiping the tear gas out of my eyes” as he walked near protesters being gassed by police.
  • The Centennial Olympic Park bombing in 1996: Pruitt remembers the city going “from the euphoria of that first week, to the absolute depths.”
  • The July 31, 1999, shootings in Buckhead by deranged day-trader Mark Barton, who killed nine people and then himself. “We were on the air for five hours that day.”
  • The Nobel Peace Prize ceremony for former President Jimmy Carter in December 2002  in Oslo, Norway. When Pruitt did stand-ups on the roof of his hotel in the below-zero windchill, viewers called the station pleading with the management to give their favorite newscaster a hat to protect his head against the cold.

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By Rodney Ho, rho@ajc.com, AJCRadioTV blog

22 comments Add your comment

Elle

December 17th, 2010
7:28 am

No way he’s 68 years old!

As said before...

December 17th, 2010
8:01 am

…A Davidson man needs no introduction….

jal

December 17th, 2010
8:19 am

We will miss you John!!

KatieBelle

December 17th, 2010
8:40 am

Seeing Mr. Pruitt retire is like watching a piece of my childhood go away! Growing up in Atlanta and watching the news with my parents my whole life meant seeing an awful lot of John Pruitt on my TV, and as I grew older and began to actually pay attention to the news, I found myself often turning to find out what Mr. Pruitt had to say….he may not be a larger than life personality, but I found his steady and confident delivery to be reassuring and informative. For me, news in Atlanta will never be the same. There are many talented broadcasters in our city, but none will ever be like him!
Congratulations and best wishes in retirement to you, Mr. Pruitt!

Rich T

December 17th, 2010
9:52 am

I grew up watching John Pruitt. He will truly be missed. I look forward to a book.

Rhubarb Jones

December 17th, 2010
10:28 am

John Pruitt defined class in broadcasting in this city since I was a lad. He defined class period.

B. King

December 17th, 2010
10:31 am

Forget the blood shot eyes, bad comb-over and heavy hair spray. This guy’s a pro and will be missed.

Native Atlantan

December 17th, 2010
10:34 am

First Guy Sharp – now John Pruitt. Fond memories of an Atlanta some of us were so fortunate to know growing up…before all you other folks moved here…

Sam R.

December 17th, 2010
12:40 pm

Wow, cannot believe it. Have lived in Denver since 1999 but grew up watching John in the 80s and 90s. He IS the face of Atlanta news and WILL be missed! Loved his no-schtick style.

boib

December 17th, 2010
2:17 pm

It should have been:
“That man goes TWO bed at 1 a.m….”

srh

December 17th, 2010
2:53 pm

@boib: you spell about as well as Rodney…that man goes TO….
Geez!

boib

December 17th, 2010
3:18 pm

@srh: WOOOOSH! That was the sound of my sarcasm going over your head. :)

yeah, srh...

December 17th, 2010
3:57 pm

…you should be ashamed that yiu did not realize that the TWO was meant as a tribute to Channel 2, from which the gentleman is retiring – I mean, c’mon man!!!! GEEZ, to you…..

Pattie

December 17th, 2010
6:59 pm

John Pruitt is the reason I still watch WSB News every day. He will be missed but I am happy that he will be moving into the best years of his life. Have fun, John!

srh

December 17th, 2010
7:22 pm

Yes @boib and @yeah, srh. I messed up – sorry. I am just so used to seeing errors in his writing, and of course he had one again. I didn’t get the good joke you made.

BarryATL

December 17th, 2010
7:52 pm

WSB-TV cut off his final broadcast mid-sentence and went to commercial Very classy Channel 2!

Andy

December 18th, 2010
7:53 am

I’ll miss John Pruitt on WSB…..even though the dude looks really to fall asleep on the air. Still, he seemed to be a bit of a ‘throwback’ to the early days of news on TV.

Kennesaw Dave

December 18th, 2010
1:16 pm

Like Sam R and Native Atlantan, I grew up with John Pruitt doing the news too. I even have a fond memory of taking a school field trip to 11 Alive and watching a broadcast one time where he was anchoring. I hope he enjoys his retirement and he will definitely be missed.

sherry berman

December 19th, 2010
9:41 pm

There are fewer and fewer journalists like Mr. Pruitt. Journalism is becoming more entertainment than a source of information. I respected his leveled and thorough approach to local news. Here’s to hoping the new generation of producers will learn from Pruitt’s legacy.

1baddman

December 20th, 2010
6:45 pm

Congratulations John; enjoy your retirement and your fly fishing.

TheLazyComic

December 21st, 2010
2:31 am

Hmmmmmm… I wonder what FEMALE they will hire to replace him ?? So much for equality in the Untied States.

BW

December 22nd, 2010
7:26 am

In the ’80s he came to speak to my high school. Wow, where have the years gone? It’s like a fixture of Atlanta is leaving.