Wednesday, September 26, 2012

IN THE BLACK-AND-WHITE DAYS

Now that he has an iPhone, Smitty is snapping pics and taking names. He sent along this little pic the other day. The award is hanging on a wall at KSMU, the public-radio station in Springfield. It was the first national Edward R. Murrow awarded to a radio or TV station in the 'burg, and (I think) the first one ever awarded to a public-radio station in the nation.

The story was a simple one, really. The mayor of Springfield and some members of city council didn't think there was much of a homeless problem. Having an affinity for the seedier side of the human condition, I suspected otherwise. Smitty and I hatched a way to find out.

I quit shaving. Smitty bought some Brown Derby booze as my cologne. He taped a flat-paddle mic to my chest, rigged another mic up the sleeve of my jacket. I slipped a small tape recorder in my pocket. Off I went to roam the streets.

I met several fascinating people. It wasn't scary, or daunting, or intimidating. It was reporting — asking questions, getting answers, finding out there was a problem that city leaders didn't want to admit.

As radio goes, it was pretty compelling. I remember the morning the story aired, thinking to myself, "Hey, that's pretty good sound."

Within weeks the city put together a task force to study the problem of homelessness in Springfield. Some people opened their minds. The story got things done. It also won a regional RTNDA award and, a few months later, the national investigative award.


I was 26 years old.


Just before flying to Orlando, Fla., to accept the award, I took a job at the local newspaper. When Ted Koppel shook my hand and gave me the plaque he leaned in close and gigged me for taking a print job: "Traitor. But you'll be back in broadcasting one day. Mark my words."

He was right. Of course Ted Koppel was right.

These days I type a newscast for a television station. It's been a good year, professionally; the newscast I produce won an award for being the best in Missouri. That's pretty cool.

But I miss reporting — miss the opportunity to go out and talk with people, hear their stories, tell other people about the things going on in the world around them. I miss the competition with reporters, the feeling of being first with a story and watching others have to follow in my wake.

Mostly, I miss being in the mix — asking questions, speaking truth to power, being responsible for writing the first draft of history.

I am 51 now. Am I history?

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