Joseph A. Angotti · 2006When Tom Brokaw remembers his friend and colleague Joe Angotti, with whom he worked for nearly 20 years, he says, “Cool under pressure, steady, a guy who wouldn’t be stampeded.”
Angotti and Brokaw worked together on NBC News specials on the fall of Saigon, the night Mao died and the day the Berlin Wall came down. But the occasion Brokaw recalls most vividly is the 1980 Republican Convention in Detroit when the entire press corps was very nearly stampeded by the unfolding possibility that Ronald Reagan would choose Gerald Ford as his running mate, creating a “co-presidency.”
“Gov. Jim Thompson of Illinois was wearing a Reagan-Ford button,” says Brokaw. “Dan Rather was reporting it as a done deal. There was a certain amount of pressure to be sure we didn’t get scooped, but Angotti held off and we were the first to report that Reagan shut it down.”
It also was at this convention that Angotti saved an endangered American tradition. In a technical meeting, the ever penurious Republican convention managers announced they were eliminating the balloon drop at the end of the convention. Angotti issued a dissent so powerful and persuasive that no one has ever again raised such heresy. In the competitive atmosphere of network news, it is often as important to not report a story that isn’t well sourced as it is to get it on the air first. Another colleague remembers that when Angotti was executive producer of NBC’s Weekend Nightly News, the network’s crackerjack investigative team filed a story that the FBI was digging up Jimmy Hoffa’s body. Angotti coolly insisted on more and more proof, and this, too, turned out to be a good scoop to miss.
Born and raised in Gary, Joe Angotti’s roots are pure Hoosier. His father ran Art’s Quality Bakery and Joe began as his legman, filling the jelly donuts and delivering them to the steel mills. He got his undergraduate degree at Indiana University, and went on to the master’s program in journalism. An early protégé of the legendary IU professor Dick Yoakam, Angotti was the first student news director of the WFIU newscast and earned the first graduate degree ever awarded at IU in radio and television.
From there Angotti went to Louisville, Ky., working at the CBS affiliate WHAS from 1962-66, a job interrupted by a two-year stint in the Army. From Louisville, he went to WMAQ, the NBC affiliate in Chicago where he was a field producer and weekend reporter, working initially for the northwest Indiana Bureau in Gary. In 1968, Joe was brought over to the network side as a field producer and got his first taste of tear gas covering the Democratic National Convention that summer.
In 1972, Angotti was promoted to New York where he became associate producer of NBC’s premier program, Nightly News. He soon became executive producer of Weekend Nightly with Tom Brokaw, and in 1976 he became the network’s chief political producer of election specials. From 1977-80 Angotti was executive producer of Nightly News with John Chancellor.
Angotti was also senior vice president of the NBC News division, responsible for NBC’s world-wide news gathering operations. In an era when special programming of breaking news stories was as staple of network competition, Angotti was most often the producer in the control room calling the shots. He covered such historical events as the signing of the Camp David Peace Accord, the Watergate hearings, the launches of the early space shuttles and over a dozen presidential summits. Angotti won a national Emmy for his work on a series of stories on world hunger broadcast on NBC Nightly News.
After leaving NBC News in 1992, Joe Angotti formed his own production company which produced the Twentieth Anniversary Gala of the Metropolitan Opera for pay-per-view television. He also wrote, filmed and edited a series of programs in Eastern Europe — From Marx to Markets —which were broadcast in Albania, Czechoslovakia, Romania, Bulgaria, Poland and Russia.
From 1993 to 1998, Angotti was professor and communication studies chair at the University of Miami School of Communication. He taught broadcast journalism at the graduate and undergraduate levels, and served as the founding director of the Center for the Advancement of Modern Media. Angotti was named professor and chair of the broadcast program at the Medill School of Journalism in 1999. He remained at Northwestern for six years where he was founder and faculty advisor of the Northwestern News Network which produced weekly newscasts for Evanston and Chicago television stations.
He is now teaching journalism at Monmouth College in Monmouth, Ill. He is married to the former Karen Bowman and is the father of three children.