Who says you can't teach an old dog new tricks?
WPVI (Philly) anchor Jim Gardner has been on the air for years.
But he has also embraced Social Media and loves to hang out on Twitter.
When the Phillies had their opening day of the 2013 baseball season, Gardner Tweeted: "'Breathe in the smell of beer, mustard and funnel cake. Ah, we are reborn.' Quote from anonymous Mayan philosopher.#phillies."
Then he waited.
Huh? Why isn't anyone responding? C'mon! That one was funny, he thinks. Kind of, at least, right?
For those of us whose lives have become enmeshed with social media, it's a familiar scene. We peck out an insightful or LOL-inducing missive and send it off into an echo chamber that doesn't give us the echo we want.
Don't people want to hear what we have to think?
Gardner checks back an hour later and sees that his ode to Opening Day has been retweeted 34 times and favorited 14.
"Yeah, that's right," Gardner says. "I thought it was funny!"
The general reaction people had when the 64-year-old 37-years-and-counting 6ABC news anchor Gardner joined Twitter - beyond the standard, "Oh my God, you guys, Jim Gardner's on Twitter!" - was, "Oh my God, you guys, did you know Jim Gardner is funny?"
Sure, there have been sporadic on-air moments when Gardner breaks his very serious anchor persona. He lets his face relax and gets a little silly. Like during Hurricane Sandy, when viewers thought Cecily Tynan called Adam Joseph an "untoward name," as Gardner, tongue so firmly planted in cheek it was a wonder he could speak, referred to it on air.
"I really shouldn't even say this," Gardner said, with a glint of mischeviousness in his eye. "It begins with an 'M' and it ends with an 'N' and there's an 'O' and an 'R' and an 'O' in there somewhere."
But those moments are few for the senior statesman in local newsdom. Just as they should be.
So maybe that's why it is so exciting when Gardner lets his arch sensibilities out to play, tweeting things like:
"I weep for you. RT @AliGorman6ABC My heart hurts watching #thebachelor."
"Philadelphians want to see this side of Jim Gardner. They don't want to see it in TV Jim Gardner. They want [TV Jim Gardner] to tell them where the fire is, who is corrupt, where to vote," said Matthew Ray, co-founder and principal of ChatterBlast Media, a social-media marketing firm, whose clients include Philadelphia Gas Works, the Philadelphia Parking Authority and Drexel University. "But on social, they really like the little bit of a curtain that's pulled back. That's the Jim Gardner you would want to have a margarita with at El Vez."
Ray continued that 6ABC can come off as a little cold, in part because the station refuses to let its reporters become the story, discouraging media attention toward its on-air talent. Gardner has only been interviewed a few times during his career in Philadelphia. The station has suffered fewer scandals, especially of their sacred cows (see: Mendte, Larry; Bolaris, John), but it also means viewers don't get what they crave from their celebrities: To see them as real people.
"He has a great sense of humor and whimsy. He's a very modest guy, considering the legendary status he holds with so many of us," said Jake Tapper, the Philly-raised host of CNN's "The Lead," who came to know Gardner when Tapper was an ABC News correspondent. On social media, "He conveys perfectly the Jim Garnder that those who know him off-camera love, and allows viewers who adore him on-camera to know that he's not phony."
Anchormen! They're just like us!
And we eat it up.
6ABC sports reporter Jamie Apody helped Gardner when he started using Twitter, teaching him about hashtags and retweets.
"I do use social media to inform our viewers about the latest trades, signings, things I learn covering practice, et cetera," Apody said. "I get a much bigger response when I tweet about what my husband is cooking, or my son being up all night, or the fact that Rick Williams wears crazy socks to work. Jim might not go that far, but he recently tweeted a picture of himself snowmobiling in Park City, Utah. Our viewers loved it."
When I asked Gardner about the vacation pictures, he tensed up and was uncharacteristically at a loss for words.
"Yeah, I could go so much further and, of course, people would respond, but the point isn't to get people to respond but . . . yeah, I shouldn't have done that. That was just beyond . . . what I should be doing," Gardner said.
Doesn't modern celebrity mean allowing fans into your personal space?
"But I've always had a problem with - and people who know me well enough know this - the whole celebrity thing. I have not worn that shoe comfortably and that's a good thing," Gardner said.
"The negative side of that is I've never felt comfortable with the television celebrity-hood. I feel awkward. Some people think I'm rude . . . but I think I've learned to be cordial. It took me 30 years to do it."
Using Twitter to share his personal life "doesn't correlate to my personality. It was atypical. I've done it a few times and I'm not sure exactly why."
Because you're using social media like everybody else, Jim. Look, I'm doing something cool! Look how much fun this picture is.