Groundbreaking ABC7 News journalist remembered for fearless video diary on AIDS

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- As an entertainment reporter at ABC7 news in San Francisco, Paul Wynne followed the bright lights. But after being diagnosed with AIDS, he courageously turned the spotlight on himself, through a video journal.

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"And here I am today," he told the audience. "Only today I have something I would have never dreamed about ten years ago. I have AIDS."

In the months before the journal began, Wynne wasn't working and often keeping to himself until ABC7 News photographer Lorne Morrison dropped by to visit him. Their conversations turned to the idea of doing a journal.

When asked why he encouraged Wynne to share his story, Morrison answered, "We're supposed to give people voice. That's what we do. That's what we're supposed to do," answered Morrison.

And Wynne used the voice to educate, and even answer the kind of questions rippling through the public consciousness at the time.

A silent movie style slate read, "How did you get it?" Followed by Wynne's deadpan answer into the camera, "Beats me." Another asked, "Does it hurt?" Wynne's answer, "What do you think?"

Wynne had pitched the idea to then ABC7 News director Harry Fuller. "And I said great let's do it. How soon do you want to start? And he said, let's not wait too long because I don't think I have that much longer left," Fuller remembers.

Wynne would ultimately file 20 journal segments. News crews came from as far away as Australia and Japan to witness them as word spread.

"He became the first person to go on TV and say, I have AIDS this is what it's like," said Fuller.

Later entries followed Wynne as he went through treatment, capturing the highs and lows.

"I come to the hospital to be weighed down to the gram," one began. While another featured an emaciated Wynn in his hospital bed, pulling off a fighter-pilot style breathing mask and smiling straight into the camera, "Rocket J. Squirrel here."

Wynne's journals began airing Jan. 11, 1990, when AIDS was still a virtual death sentence.
And he struggled to continue as his health deteriorated.

"It was painfully real at times, painfully real," Morrison remembers.

He didn't give up, but just over six months after he began, his body did.

In a recent interview, ABC7 news anchor Dan Ashley asked Morrison what he wanted viewers to get out of the journals if they chose to watch them.

"I want them to remember their humanity, I want them to remember his humanity," Morrison answered. "And I want them to share this with other people."

Wynne had ended his first journal with a line that might still inform many people today:And if you think you don't know anybody with aids, you do now.

Click here to watch Paul Wynne's Journals. They're currently being streamed in a collection at his alma mater, Willamette University in Oregon.

Editor's Note: This report was produced along with others as part of ABC7's coverage of the ABC Network Mini-Series, "WHEN WE RISE," which tracks the early days of the AIDS crisis in San Francisco.

Written and produced by Tim Didion.

Click here for more stories, photos and video on the ABC mini-series "When We Rise" and the stories that inspired it.
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