A Reporterís Life Can Be Fun
I’m a bit prejudiced, but I’ve always believed that all work by public agencies is clearly the business of the people and should be made available to news organizations without delay and before their deadlines.
How else can the people, the voters and taxpayers have confidence in their governments and know what’s going on in their communities, and keep their leaders honest?
It’s no secret that political leaders, and others with ambitions, love the media, especially when convenient. The moment they get into their positions of authority then media of all stripes – more often than not – must resort to the Freedom of Information Act of various cities and towns and states to obtain information that is the public business. Of course, government in all its form does know how to delay release of information and they do it regularly.
While government on all levels has been known to avoid cooperating with the media, journalists must learn the business of news gathering. So many young reporters miss out on the practice knowing their communities and the people.
I knew a reporter so suspicious of local prosecuting attorneys that he liked to sneak into offices attempting to get “inside” facts. When his clandestine work was discovered, a trap was set with phony files and case notes left open on desks. Needless to say, a front-page story of the incorrect facts was published. The paper was embarrassed to high heaven. However, no law suit was filed, but some editors and reporter paid the price.
Not all journalists and reporters operate that way, of course. Enterprising journalists can make a difference in city hall, crime and political reporting. The news nowadays includes good stuff about the work of charitable organizations and local athletes. I like the stories, the facts, about communities. I also enjoy the “sidebar” stories of local lifestyles. These stories come from knowing people in every area of local life.
Too many reporters want to be commentators, to use pretty faces and golden hair on television instead of becoming first-class correspondents. Most of them, however, have faces for radio or print pages.
There are many good stories out there, and it’s the hard-working reporter who gets them. The good scoop doesn’t always have to be about misconduct on the part of public officials. One I like involves a young college graduate on his first reporting job. Assigned to a weekend society party, he described all of the events at the soiree and ended with “and the band played music.” It’s the little things.
Note taking is vital for reporters who want to succeed in the exciting profession. In my days of court reporting, I got to know judges, clerks and attorneys. I always found good copy and quotes from many cases by just listening. One morning, the regular judge was out sick. If there wasn’t a jury trial, hizzoner allowed me to sit in the jury box to listen to cases, take notes, even scan the morning papers. That was a nice courtesy.
One day a visiting judge appeared on the bench. He saw me in the mahogany wood-style jury box before opening court. “Just who do you think you are,” he bellowed. “Get out of my courtroom.” Embarrassed a bit, I scrammed, went out the side door and entered the rear door, taking a seat on the back row, trying to hide. Waiting for the next case, I just quietly looked over the sports pages.
“You can’t read the newspaper in my court,” he boomed again and sent the bailiff to get the paper. “And, I don’t like your paper, so leave.”
It wasn’t a big case anyway, so I left. I thought I might get even one day, perhaps misspell his name or something. Lunch time arrived and along with the court people, we all ate at the popular corner eatery. The judge was among the crowd. He smiled when he saw me, admitted he had known the arrangements I enjoyed and said he was just having fun. The joke was on me, but I was able to write a piece about the courtroom experience.
A year later found me covering golf. I noticed the judge was among the entrants and, in the advance story, I printed his judicial picture alongside the favorites. When he went to tee off, he was cheered, ready to drive. Unexpectedly, my payback came quickly. He hooked his opening drive and took a triple bogey.
People make news and that’s why I’ve always made notes. They come in handy sooner or later. I do like the politicians who are characters and really make a difference.
I got to know the late William Donald Schaefer, indefatigable governor and comptroller of Maryland and mayor of Baltimore. He enjoyed writing letters to critics all over the state. Usually, state troopers delivered the missives and oftentimes around midnight.
After he was excoriated for the letters, I wrote him, complimenting his “epistolary intercourse.” He replied I was the only one who apparently knew he was having lots of fun. From that time I was an invited guest to official functions.
A reporter’s life can be rewarding – and great fun.