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Free Samples of a Sleep-Deprived Brain

…or what happens when family meets work meets severe weather meets baseball…

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Media

Thanks

Well. Ready or not, it’s here. And it’s time.

After 14 years and almost seven months, my time at KVOE Radio in Emporia, Kan. — and in media in general — has come to an end.

Starting Monday, I become the community relations director for USD 253 Emporia. It’s a job that, honestly, is a natural extension of my career the past 20 years and a family link to education spanning several generations.

It’s a job that I’m excited to assume for a number of reasons. Having a normal schedule is something both I and my family are more than pleased to start. And it’s not just with the work schedule: the home schedule will change a lot next week, but I’m looking forward to the madness that is morning with kids.

The schedule is a key part of the excitement, but it’s only part of the picture. Family is the big reason for the change in careers.

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The past several years have seen an increase in overall news duties have increased along with, unfortunately, department turnover. That combination has meant a lot more time at the station or in the field than it had when I started. By extension, that meant less time at home. I’ve always wanted to be a full-time husband and father, and honestly I was serving in a part-time role in both capacities at a time when it was becoming more clear our two adoptive children have special needs relating to neurofibromatosis, a genetic condition leading to physical issues, sensory issues and delays for speech and motor skills. The further along I went, the more part-time I became.

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Station management thought outside the normal box, allowing me more flexibility to go to medical appointments and approving the addition of part-time news employees. In the end, though, it was clear I needed a 50-hour work week instead of a 70-hour week. I could cut back on the amount of news I generated, and eventually I did to a degree. However, I felt that cutting back any more than I did would be doing a disservice to the community.

Choosing a career path outside of radio was really a no-brainer. For years, I’ve had a mild interest in media relations, but recently I realized I had a few things going for me if I ever made the jump. I enjoy writing. I enjoy social media, which has become a major part of media as a whole. I adapt to different situations fairly quickly. I also realized my options were, frankly, limited because I still need at least two years of education to get my bachelor’s degree.

And as I’ve said to different media outlets and people around the area, the Emporia district has a lot going for it, so for me this is the perfect place to land as I change my career direction. There’s a reason the #EmporiaProud hashtag has taken off since Kevin Case became superintendent last year. Whether it’s student accomplishments, student-generated projects, teacher and staffer ventures and the like, KVOE’s Feel Good Friday segment could be populated several times a month with the good things coming from the district. I’ve been blessed to meet a lot of dedicated staffers at all levels in USD 253, so I consider myself very fortunate to go from the radio station to the district and utilize all the media skills I’ve developed over the past two decades.

My decision to pursue the community relations position was simultaneously easy and hard. Easy, because of the schedule, the ability to tell this district’s stories and the aforementioned ripple effect of the daily news grind.

Hard, because I never seriously considered any other career until relatively recently and realizing a switch likely ends two career dreams I’ve had for years: being the voice of a major college or professional baseball team and, more recently, owning a cluster of radio stations.

You may well have heard the story (a few times) before. Back in 1980, when i was 9, I was listening to my first Kansas City Royals radio broadcast. Before my second inning of listening, I knew sports play-by-play — particularly baseball — was what I wanted to do as a career. I already had an ear towards media as a potential career. My brother, Pete, and I constantly broke down larger cardboard boxes and turned them into news desks as young kids, and the Omaha tornado of 1975 had fostered a lifelong interest in severe weather. But above all, especially when I realized exactly how much math was in in meteorology, even with a dabble into music education as I transitioned from high school to higher education, I wanted to be involved in sports (and, no, I don’t have a pic of those days, so this earlier rendition will have to do).

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I got my chance at sports broadcasting at KLIN in Lincoln, Neb., but I had to earn it. First, I had the part-timer trial by fire (rather, trial by boredom) as the overnight board op. Once I proved relatively competent at that, I was shifted to days — and then several duties opened up in relatively rapid succession. I was allowed to fulfill my weather fix as a spotter/reporter, including reports on a small twister near Cortland. I was also allowed to be the station board operator on several sports, including Lincoln Stars junior hockey, and the network board operator for Pinnacle Sports coverage of several University of Nebraska sports, including Husker football. (Talk about a Saturday: pregame coverage — 4.5 hours, game coverage — 3.5 hours, postgame coverage — up to 5 hours…a predecessor of things to come). And I got my first taste of professional news.

News as a career was never a goal of mine. I repeat: never a goal. But apparently I had a nose for it. I should have known from my days at the Burke High Beat and North Star high school newspapers that I’d go into news at some point. And like my early days behind the markered-up cardboard box, I had a premonition of things to come from family. My aunt, Cheryl Butler, spent decades in print journalism, including lengthy stops at the Minneapolis Star-Tribune and Washington Post. And my mom was starting to launch her own writing career — and cementing her status in the world of quilting as a result.

Starting as a cub reporter, I went from fires to school boards to the Upfront Story, our in-depth (as in-depth as you can get in 95 seconds) feature of the day several times a week. And then — something I didn’t appreciate fully at the time — I was put on Live at 5, KLIN’s afternoon drive-time news show at the time as a co-anchor. Jane Monnich, John Soukup and I worked to sculpt newscasts and snag guests for the hour-long program before Jane and I — along with Dan “The Weatherman” Staehr and Jim Rose — wrapped up the day’s local, regional and occasionally national events.

Mind you, this was all as a part-timer. It was the inability to gain full-time status that led me to a three-year stint in print journalism, first at the Wahoo Newspaper (yes, that is indeed the paper’s name) before two years at the Lincoln Journal Star. At the Wahoo Newspaper, I was again a multi-duty staffer, handling news, sports, photography and page design. At the Journal Star, I was strictly behind the desk, editing copy and designing pages.

But I couldn’t stay away from radio. And even though I couldn’t get a full-time position in sports (trust me — I tried), I could at least keep my foot in the sports door by taking a position at KVOE. So in October 2002, after a gentle nudge from former general manager Lee Schroeder, I packed up with the help of my dad and made the four-hour trip from Lincoln to Emporia. And on Oct. 14, 2002, I took the air in the Kansas Flint Hills for the first time.

The position was officially for a news anchor/reporter, which automatically involved severe weather. It also involved high school sports and remotes — so essentially exactly what I was doing at KLIN with a full-time paycheck to go with it. However, it was, admittedly, rocky at the start. I was so nervous and so eager to please that I sprinted through my newscasts like a chipmunk on meth (cheetah on crack…you get the picture) and then I stumbled through some casts like Wile E. Coyote chasing the Roadrunner…before he went cliffdiving (it happened every episode on TV and it almost happened every newscast). How I won a first-place newscast award from the Kansas Associated Press my second year was beyond me. Still is, honestly.

Quickly on awards, since I brought up that topic: I’ve been fortunate to win my share from the Kansas Association of Broadcasters for news, features, severe weather and sports. Maybe it’s wrong of me to say, but I’ve always considered awards as validation for what I’m doing, either individually or as part of a team, and just as importantly as enhancement of the station’s prestige. I’d like to say I’ve added to that prestige the past 14 years, but that’s not my place to judge.

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Much more than the awards, though, my focal points as a news reporter have been to be complete, be fair to all sides, to ask the necessary questions (realizing it may be quite some time before those questions get answered), to eliminate anything subjective in the on-air and online reports and to learn from all my interactions. The learning aspect is underrated among today’s new reporters, in my estimation. I’ve seen several incoming reporters who have a set idea about media, whether it’s in the broadcast persona, what should or shouldn’t be covered and even how to deal with their management or employers. Reporters with a split persona (one for the airwaves and one for everybody else) have a much better chance of a sustained career, in my opinion, although I’m not so sure that should be the case.

As a sports broadcaster, I’ve always felt my role has been to relay exactly what’s happening, both on and off the field of play. It was never enough to just report the on-field action; I also wanted to capture the emotional ebb and flow of the game I was covering. Leaving that out, to me, ignored a critical piece of the action for listeners and later viewers as our high school sports coverage went online.

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Speaking of online: There’s no doubt the advent of the Internet and social media has thoroughly transformed news outlets. It certainly transformed operations at KVOE. Starting with a series of Microsoft Word documents that served as a rudimentary website, KVOE’s online presence has transformed into an award-winning, content-rich website (emphasis on content-rich). Facebook and Twitter see several updates a day, and that’s leaving out the rapid-fire severe weather and breaking news alerts. My goal has been to drive people from the web and social media to the airwaves and back again, using one form of media to highlight and bring attention to the others.

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I’m grateful for the in-house relationships I’ve developed at KVOE, whether it be the Morning Show and ESU football crew of Ron Thomas and Greg Rahe, evenings and weekends with Sean Thornton, high school sports with Scott Hayes and the off-mike interactions with the sales staff, secretaries, part-time employees and station owner Steve Sauder. They mean more than you will realize.

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I’m also marveling at the sheer number of stories over the past 14-plus years, sometimes up to 12 a day, and the breadth of news:

I’ve covered destructive fires, whether it be homes or the Fourth Avenue Dining Company. I’ve seen people die just feet from me as I covered crashes and trauma calls. I’ve seen the pain of victims in murder and sexual abuse cases as their situations work through the court process.

I’ve seen massive shifts in legislative policy in Kansas, ranging from the so-called three-legged stool to the glide path to zero. I’ve also watched a decade-long fight over education funding.

I’ve watched Emporia develop a vibe and mojo — thanks to events like the Dirty Kanza and major disc golf tournaments as well as a concerted effort by local government leaders and education administrators to think outside the box towards that very end.

I’ve had the chance to broadcast state basketball championships, attend a Major League Baseball All-Star Game and fulfill my long-deferred goals of doing baseball and football play-by-play, even if only on a fill-in basis.

I’ve had a chance to interview a Heisman trophy winner, a local racing hero, baseball legends, world-known musicians and influential politicians — and a lot of people I only run into either downtown or at Emporia’s Walmart.

I’ve watched moderate risk severe weather days turn into absolute busts. And I’ve seen severe thunderstorm watch boxes turn into destructive tornadoes in Reading and Eureka.

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And I’ve been honored to balance the bad news with the good. The Feel Good, that is. KVOE’s weekly Friday feature has been an absolute joy, and not just because of the 2 minute, 5 seconds of finished product. I’ve had the good fortune of listening and learning to some wonderful stories and meeting some great people as a result. As far as I have been concerned the past few years, the report every Friday morning has been gravy at the end of the weekly process.

Yes, there have been lots of fun and interesting times as well. I’ve dressed up as an 1980s-era rock star to cover Boo in the Zoo (wearing far more hair than I’ve ever had naturally in my life). I’ve served as a pitchman for a weight loss drink. I’ve emceed bridal fairs, just weeks before I’ve dressed as a Smurf or a Flintstone to generate money for Special Olympics and had my head shaved to raise money for St. Baldricks.  (I’m still trying to forget my alter ego, “Anita Shaver”…)

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It’s been a great career, but it’s time to turn in my key card, delete my scanner app and launch forward.

Besides telling the positive stories for USD 253 Emporia, I’ll also be filling you in on any breaking and rapidly developing situations affecting schools and school kids. On top of that, I’ll be coordinating all things enrollment. I’ll also be attending all USD 253 Board of Education meetings and helping to facilitate projects like the Hopkins Awards, American Education Week cookie delivery and other special events. So my plate will be full, even though my schedule will be considered normal by most (totally different to me).

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I’ll also be taking over for a local legend, whether she likes the designation or not. Nancy Horst has held the community relations position for over two decades after a notable career at the Emporia Gazette, and she has been the embodiment of professionalism during my tenure at KVOE. She has also been more than generous with her time as I start peppering her with questions about my new job. I have two big shoes to fill coming Monday morning.

But I don’t forge ahead before saying thank you to my family. They helped me keep my sanity, even though they may well have been losing theirs with the number of short-notice schedule changes and lengthy times away.

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And I want to thank you for listening. Thanks for having me with you as you wake up…whether it’s at the breakfast table, in the shower, in bed or wherever. Thanks for hacking through 14-plus years of stumbling newscasts. Thanks for bearing with some admittedly inane, silly, occasionally stupid and sometimes totally off-target references to different topics. And thanks for trusting me as a reporter for the news happening around the world and here at home all these years.

Time to wrap it up and ice it down. Thanks, everybody. See you around town.

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I Have Seen…The Baseball Promised Land

Kansas City Royals catcher Drew Butera and Wade Davis celebrate after Game 5 of the Major League Baseball World Series against the New York Mets Monday, Nov. 2, 2015, in New York. The Royals won 7-2 to win the series. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
Royals catcher Drew Butera and Wade Davis celebrate after Game 5 of the Major League Baseball World Series against the New York Mets Monday, Nov. 2, 2015, in New York. The Royals won 7-2 to win the series. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Eleven years ago, my wife Ginny and I had our first formal date as a couple. I asked her to a Kansas City Royals game against Cleveland and I was pleasantly surprised when she accepted.

The Royals were bad that year, miserable bad, sweat-on-sunburn-painful bad. Bad enough where outfielders looked at each other during a fly ball, jogged in for the third out and had the ball land behind them. Bad enough where a first baseman got eaten up by a tarp…not really, but you get the picture. Bad enough where fireworks were touched off when a batter walked. (OK, they didn’t all happen that year, but after a while the cumulative effect just rolls together into one mind-numbing nightmare lowlight). Bad enough where our attention wasn’t on the game but on developing the Ballad of Coco Crisp. I forget how that goes.

Last night, shortly before midnight, we cuddled up on a couch and watched Wade Davis close out the New York Mets for a World Series crown.

And what a crown. And what a team.

The never-say-die attitude of the Royals was discussed at length, especially as the comebacks started to mount. The reasons behind the comebacks were also given a lot of air time as the World Series continued and eventually culminated. One of the reasons I haven’t heard mentioned, especially about the Royals hitters, was what can best be described a lack of baseball ego. Think about it. The Royals sometimes had some pretty poor at-bats early in playoff games this year, but go back and follow the ABs in pivotal situations. There were very few wasted plate appearances, very few wasted swings, even if they weren’t all productive.

Dale Sveum’s “keep the line moving approach” demands that hitters make contact as often as possible. But it dictates an unselfishness among batters, urging them to put their individual wishes aside for “the big hit” — namely home runs — for the greater good of a hit, a baserunner, an increase in pressure on the defending team.

Under that pressure, Royals opponents cracked, buckled and eventually caved.

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Look at the Mets as a classic example. Look at how the deciding rallies started in Games 1, 4 and 5 to prove the point. Rushing on defense led to critical errors, setting the table for possible victories — but the Royals also took advantage, which is the big thing (and what had a lot of us worrying about the team’s postseason fate back in September when KC wasn’t finishing off teams).

The Royals weren’t clean by any means in this World Series — two potentially costly errors by Gold Glover Eric Hosmer and a fielding brain fart by pitcher Franklin Morales that locked up the Mets’ only win. Doesn’t matter. Not with this team.

As an aside, I have to credit the Fox broadcast team for their Game 5 coverage. As unabashedly biased as Game 1’s play-by-play went, the crew of Joe Buck, Harold Reynolds and Tom Verducci changed their tune by Game 5 and were about as fair and balanced as you can get. Kudos there.

Back to the team that matters.

This was a team that has been labeled as destined to win, and not just because of what outfielder Alex Gordon called a cockroach-like inability to go away. It was a team brought together by the heartbreak of losing the World Series last year and fused by the unfortunate passing of Mike Moustakas’ mother and Chris Young’s and Edinson Volquez’s fathers. The word team often blends into the word family when it comes to championship-level sports. The Royals embody that blend perhaps better than any time I have followed for a long time, in part due to the losses that matter on the scoreboard and the losses that matter in life.

Speaking of the on-field losses, it was less than three years ago that Royals fans had enough of the team’s current direction. Myself included. And honestly, it was hard to blame us. Starting in 1995, the Royals dove into one of the most inept stretches of baseball, losing 90 or more games almost every season, looking bad on the field and lost off it. Starting the 2013 season, the Royals had to use a second-half shove to get into the playoff picture and give fans some hope General Manager Dayton Moore’s “Process” and Manager Ned Yost’s crustiness were worth supporting. Both were just about the door if the Royals had another lifeless summer.

If you want to look back, that walkoff grand slam hit by Justin Maxwell against Texas — one of the best non-playoff baseball moments I’ve ever seen, in person or on TV — was a feelgood moment to essentially end the 2013 season. But it also served as a precursor to what we saw this year.

If you want to look back, the 2014 Wild Card game was yet another prelude.

And now there’s no need to look back.

I was 14 when the Kansas City Royals slid past St. Louis in the 1985 World Series. Say what you want about the Don Denkinger call in Game 6 that year, but the Cardinals flat melted down in that inning and throughout Game 7. The Royals’ core from that team didn’t completely end its useful baseball life for several years, so I thought at least one more playoff push was in the cards. It wasn’t. Not for a loooong time. The team then got so bad and the front office so clueless I thought I would never see another title.

This must have been what the Israelites felt some 3,000 years ago criscrossing the Palestinian desert and then being told The Promised Land was in sight. It wasn’t 40 years in the desert, but three decades of mainly rudderless direction is plenty long enough.

There are a ton of questions about the 2016 Royals. Can KC re-sign Gordon to a deal and get Ben Zobrist on board for another year or two? How will the Royals handle Danny Duffy and replace Johnny Cueto? Can the Royals reclaim their magic from this year?

Right now, it doesn’t matter. I and millions of Royals fans have finally seen the baseball promised land.

Advice for New Journalists (i.e., Bust Your Butt Because Stuff’s Gotta Get Done)

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Recently, I had the good fortune to rub shoulders with a couple sets of college journalists. We didn’t discuss a whole lot other than their assignments, but they seemed pretty into their work and eager to join the profession. I have to say I was pretty impressed with their drive.

Thinking about those encounters got me thinking about something else: exactly what young journalists need to know about the profession before they get into it. Honestly, I’m not sure what’s being taught in the classroom these days — especially when it comes to the day-to-day, common-sense things journalists have needed throughout history. And to tell you the truth, I never got that far in my formal college education to find out because I was already learning on the job and had made the fateful decision to pursue the position rather than the degree. Maybe that lack of a diploma disqualifies me from giving advice, but I think my 20 years in the field as a reporter, copy editor, page designer, play-by-play voice, color commentator and department director make me rather qualified for what I’m about to say in a bit.

(A foreword and an insight into my news coverage philosophy: On my Twitter page, I’ll often use the hashtag #SGGD when things are busy — like today, when I’ve written nine stories between 7 and 11 am. Translation? Stuff’s Gotta Get Done).

With that in mind, here’s my advice for those either set to enter the journalism field or those even considering journalism as a profession. Think of this as a guide to helping you be a better journalist, increasing your personal and news outlet’s credibility and keeping your supervisors gruntled (as opposed to the picture at the top of this post). As usual, there is no particular order to these different points:

Don’t ever underestimate the importance of breaking news. It may seem like this should go without saying, but if you don’t cover breaking news correctly, you and your station lose a lot of credibility in a very short time period. Just based on our website numbers, breaking news — even if it doesn’t turn out to be anything serious — will easily outpace your other stories that could well be of more importance to more people. If, by chance, you miss something like a crash or a fire, you’ll hear about it in house for a long time. And your bosses will hear about it from community members for a longer period of time.

You absolutely cannot have a lasseiz-faire attitude when it comes to breaking news. That can be reserved for others in your operation. But you have to think worst-case scenario until proven otherwise. Once you think you don’t have to go all out, especially in the first few moments of an event, you tend to miss something big. You don’t want to answer the questions that follow something like that.

Have what I call professional curiosity…or, related, Go beyond the assignment list. This is the journalism equivalent of playing through the whistle in sports. Has something come down on email or social media that wasn’t on your assignment list but you’re the only one on duty? See something like a water main break or construction around a previously burned-out building? Follow up and let your supervisor know. Few things aggravate superiors more so than egregious errors in your work…but high up on the list is having reporters know of stories and refusing to pursue them.

Speaking of the assignment list, follow that completely and let your supervisor or news director know if there is something you can’t get written up. It’s aggravating to see a story assigned with photos or a video and only seeing the story. There are reasons your supervisor has assigned those stories to you and given you related assignments like pics or videos as well. If you have questions about the train of thought involved, just ask.

Translate lessons from one situation to another. This typically comes after mistakes. The goal here is to learn what went wrong so it doesn’t happen again — and you avoid incurring the wrath of your supervisors for repeated issues or outright failures.

Don’ t pass your work off on anybody else, let alone your supervisor. Don’t be that guy (or that girl) who covers something but tells your supervisor something along the lines of, “I left that pic up on the desktop so you can load that later” or “I’ll let you handle that interview for (fill in the blank reason).” You didn’t make the assignment so don’t act like you did. You’ll be lucky to see it go online and you may get a rather sharp retort to finish your assignment.

Be prepared for some very long work days and work weeks. My work day typically starts around 4 am and usually doesn’t get done until around 2 or 3 pm — and that’s if I don’t have an evening meeting, breaking news assignment during our late afternoon newscast cycle or severe weather to handle. It adds up. My work week is typically in the 60- to 70-hour range, and during vacations it climbs to around 90 hours to make sure everything (or most everything) is covered. Take your downtime whenever you can. Find some way to get away, if only for short chunks of time. And make sure you get sleep when you can. Sleep becomes a priceless commodity in this business.

Put another way: your work day isn’t over just because your shift is done.

A broad range of interests can only help you. You have to cover everything from performing arts events to zoning meetings to school board budgets to deaths. The full news coverage pie is a meaty, meaty offering. It all needs to be covered to the best of your ability. Don’t get a reputation for fully covering only a small slice of your pie and leaving the rest virtually untouched.

What you say…or type…can come back to haunt you. You have to be on the level, whether you’re writing a story or talking about other matters. If you’re caught lying about off-work stuff, it automatically calls your credibility into question about what you write. Automatically. And heaven help you if you are caught lying about something you did or didn’t do for work.

Be ready to adapt at a moment’s notice. You may have to wake up at 5 am to cover a wreck when you just got back home at midnight after a long meeting. Severe weather may hit during a late afternoon newscast. Somebody notable to your area may resign or die and you don’t hear about until Saturday afternoon. You know it in your head that a lot of news stories don’t have a schedule, but you will have that lesson drilled into you during your first six to nine months on the job. You have to be flexible in this business.

Bottom line? Even in a small market, journalism is a field that mandates a high-revving motor. You’re going to make your mistakes. There will be stories or angles of stories you don’t immediately see. Even seasoned veterans have some major screw-ups or dumb thought processes (just ask NBC’s Brian Williams). You’ll get somebody mad at least once a week for how you write a story, no matter how fair you are. But nobody should question your work ethic. If you have a slow-running motor, it’s best to avoid this field even if you like to write and interact with people. If your motor runs high, then certain things you don’t do so well will at least be tolerated until you can bring those up to speed — and you will be expected to do so in short order.

#SGGD. And you’ll be hired to get that stuff done. Good luck…and may the news force be with you.

The author is the news director of KVOE Radio in Emporia, Kan.

Trying to Make Sense of the WDBJ Shooting

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I don’t think it’s a stretch to say domestic broadcast journalism lost its innocence or sense of invincibility Wednesday.

The live on-air murders of WDBJ reporter Alison Parker and cameraman Adam Ward looked like something you could expect in the war-ravaged Middle East. But it happened on our soil. Before 7 am. In what apparently was a relatively safe, peaceful area.

What happened Wednesday near Roanoke, Va., was on one level about as incomprehensible an act as you can imagine. On another level, though, this is a thoroughly unnerving sign of our times, from the shooter’s live social media feed to the rambling manifesto claiming the perpetrator was really the victim to the suicide.

Being in news for almost 20 years and leading KVOE’s news department for almost five years now, this really has me shaken. The shooter was a disgruntled former employee. That statement alone should be enough for anybody in management to review his or her dealings with current or past employees to make sure those interactions were fair and honorable.

Besides that, though, we as journalists are out and about in our respective communities a lot. We cover everything, from murders and standoffs to zoning meetings and Chamber of Commerce features. We have our guard up when we go to certain events but we may not have it up with others like the features we do. This may force us as reporters, photographers, cameramen and others “in the field” to be on constant alert at all times.

And because we are coming to you in your cars, your cubicles or your showers, we aren’t off the job just because we are off the air. Talking about a story we wrote earlier in the day or what we said about our favorite sports teams last week with acquaintances or total strangers comes with the job. It’s a part of the job we accept, some of us willingly, others grudgingly.

Overseas journalists, especially those in the aforementioned “hot spots” on our globe, accept the personal safety risks that come with making sure people know what happened. They also know in general terms what subjects could put them in the crosshairs.

Honestly, I never thought I’d have to think those risks would be in place in America. They officially are, and to a degree they are more insidious because, as was blasted into our consciousness Wednesday, we have no idea who may be approaching us with bad intent, waiting like a predatory cat, gun in one hand, cell phone in the other.

#WeStandWithWDBJ

Stand Up (And Give Me Some Actual Information)

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I swear (by the moon and the stars and the sky)…

When I was my daughter’s age, I was already well into a habit of watching Omaha’s nightly newscasts — both at 5 and 10 pm. I know. Color me weird. Most of you already have.

I don’t get much of a chance to watch TV newscasts anymore, largely because the screen is programmed now to feed me a steady diet of Disney and Nickelodeon. The equivalent of baby food for an adult brain (watch the train go down the tunnel…mmmm yummy). Gag me.

If there is any leftover time, that is now typically reserved for the Royals broadcast (I’m still trying to figure out how to get MASN to show up on my Dish package…not that I’d have an extra hour to watch…).

Anyways, my schedule gave me two chances to watch – and pay attention to — network news for the first time in a long time last week.

I’m not impressed.

The main reason is the reporting. It’s in your face, especially with the reporter stand-ups. It’s breathless. It’s reaction-based and reporter-centered, not topic-centric. And the reports I saw had almost nothing of substance about the actual subject matter.

Look. I’ve been in this business now for 20 years. Even with the luxury of a newscast that can approach 20 minutes rather than 90 seconds, as was the case in Lincoln, I have to leave a lot of important information out of my respective stories. I have to pick and choose what I’ll highlight, de-emphasize or omit. Sometimes the story matter makes that choice for me and sometimes it’s a very difficult decision.

The first local broadcaster I remember relying on delivery rather than substance was John Mooney, a reporter-anchor at KETV. I forget whether his tenure was in the late 1980s or early 1990s. All I know is his approach didn’t last long — maybe two years at the most before he disappeared. At the time, I figured his style, something akin to Dan Rather on stimulants,  would never return. Turns out Mooney was about 20 years ahead of his time.

Call me stuck in the past. Call me crotchety. Heck — call me wrong on this. But I think the stand-ups, intended or not, now largely both excite and inflame viewers and detract from what the reporter is supposed to be letting you know about. You could also make a point today’s TV reporting style allows for biases to come out as fact in a much less subtle way than was allowed even a decade ago. I wouldn’t argue that after what I saw last week.

Put it to you this way: something is wrong when ESPN reporters put together their on-scene reports with more gravitas than their network news counterparts. If you don’t believe me, watch a network newscast and concentrate on the reporter stand-ups. Then watch an ESPN SportsCenter with the same emphasis. It’s not. Even. Close.

I know I’ve been breathless at times during my reporting. Some of that is I have never been able to slow my delivery down past a certain point without sounding in my head that I’m talking through molasses (and some of that deals with trying to bounce from on-air responsibilities to writing as much as I can for upcoming newscasts — or I’m trying to get as much information from my brain to your ears in as short a time period as possible before you either lose interest or get distracted…or my train of thought derails). Some of that is, well, I’m fat and out of shape.

When I started in broadcasting, one of the things my dad told me was to basically deliver the news straight. Use inflection so each story doesn’t sound the same but keep the emotion to a minimum because it it doesn’t add to the story. I’ve tweaked that approach to purposefully add some emotion in some of my human interest stories (and I’ve tried to eliminate as much as I can from the political stories that just drive me nuts), but Dad’s basic philosophy still drives me. It’s not exactly Dragnet — “just the facts” — but it’s close: concentrate on what happened and how this will affect anybody tuned in — and then let listeners make any specific decision for themselves that they need to make. Today’s journalistic direction essentially phases out my approach.

The one thing I hope is my delivery speed and inflection style doesn’t reduce the seriousness of what I’m reporting or lead people to a decision. This is one area where I’d really rather not be considered part of the new wave of journalism. They say things happen in cycles, and I’m hoping the pendulum swings back to a more moderate, more reasoned approach at some point down the road.

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