January 10, 2003

A Little Journalism Lesson I

A Little Journalism Lesson

I remember sitting in my journalism classes listening to the professors talk about some of their most memorable reporting experiences. Sure, newbie reporters get the shit-end of the salary stick (I made a whole $7 an hour at my first newspaper reporting job), but there's nothing like being out on a beat to experience news as it happens. It can be electrifying, and it can be boring, and it can be downright funny.

During my second newspaper job as news editor of the Stewartville Star, I kept an ear glued to the scanner each day, listening for emergency rescue dispatches and other such tidbits. I was ticking away at an ancient Macintosh computer, circa 1990, with a monitor so old and so ready to cash in its chips it was actually yellow, like looking through a Mountain Dew bottle. The chain-smoking publisher and his wife were working on ad layout just outside my office, smoking away (apparently working around so much paper and flammable glue didn't register as a concern), and the smoke snaked its way into my nostrils, making me hope beyond hope the scanner would go off so I could get the hell outdoors and into the fresh air.

The journalism genie must have heard me, because my wish was granted. A flurry of activity broadcast over the scanner and in short order the streets of Stewartville came alive with sirens. In a blink, I had my notebook, pen and camera loaded up and I was out the door to pursue the nearest vehicle with flashing lights. I settled in behind a police cruiser and followed it down a dusty gravel road for about three miles, when we finally came upon a roadblock of other cruisers and two emergency response vehicles.

It was an odd scene, but only because there was nothing remarkable to report. A truck with a topper was pulled over to the side of the road, and emergency personnel were working to extricate an obviously dead man from the driver's side. A few yards away, a stricken-looking woman was giving a report to an officer. She was perhaps 45, maybe younger, but her crying had caused her make-up to run, so she looked pretty awful, like Alice Cooper only worse.

Suddenly, a hand dropped on my shoulder and I was whirled around by an Olmsted County deputy who obviously viewed his badge as a reason to puff out his chest and strut like he was something special. Most officers are down to earth good people. He was not.

"Just what the hell do you think you're doing here?" he asked. "This is an accident scene."

"Then where's the accident?" I said. "All I see is a truck pulled over and a dead guy being wheeled into an ambulance. I'm a reporter and I'm just trying to find out what happened."

"This doesn't concern reporters like you," he sniffed. "Now step back over there beyond that squad car before I escort you there myself."

"Well, can I take pictures?" I pressed, mostly trying to buy time so I could listen in on the report being given by the stricken woman I had mentally started referring to as Alice Cooper. "I was thinking a good action shot of the gurney being put in the ambulance would be great."

"Are you trying to be funny?" he asked, taking a very serious pose apparently meant to make as much sunshine reflect off his badge as possible. "Move it. Now!"

I had played with Mr. Muscle long enough, and I didn't want to push him any further, as fun as that could have been, so I walked slowly back to my car. What I had gathered from the Alice's report was that the dead individual was a former Mower County elected official of some sort, but that was about it. I didn't understand all the secrecy, which usually is never an issue for a vehicle "accident." And, besides, why the hell were they referring to it as an accident when obviously the truck hadn't suffered so much as a scratch? I couldn't help but think there was more to this guy's death than I was being told, and that always pisses a reporter off. It's bad enough that we're paid shit, but being stonewalled sucks more than anything else.

I wasn't beat yet. One of the cardinal rules about small town reporting is you simply must make nice early on with the people of local government and the law enforcement officials who spend the most time in town. I knew the local deputy (referred to as Ted here) extremely well and had done a ride along with him my second week on the job to make it known that I was not his enemy. He proved to be one of the best sources of information during the ten months I worked at that paper.

I tracked down Ted at a local Hardees, and he told me to meet him at his office where things weren't quite so public. I did as he asked, fully anticipating a juicy news story. I was envisioning a great tale of suspected murder of a former elected Mower County official. Oh, my scoop would be the envy of the local media outlets. This was my big break. Come on, Ted, feed me the details!

These were the details, all off the record of course:

Alice Cooper, who wasn't the loving wife of the former elected Mower County official, but an occasional on-the-side girlfriend, was performing an apparently stellar blowjob in the cab of the parked truck, when suddenly the former elected Mower County official suffered a heart attack and died. Although Ted and I laughed ourselves senseless, there was no way I was going to report on that.

So much for making the big time.

Posted by Ryan at January 10, 2003 05:13 PM

Good Point. Anyways, this was where i met her. You can join for free as well www.redtricircle.com

Posted by: click here at March 12, 2005 03:40 AM
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