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?