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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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Work

Piecing Together My Voice…And Other Stuff

with inwoodOver the past week, I’ve been dealing with some of the crud Ginny and the kids have had — although not to the same extent. At least, I didn’t think so until Friday night.

One of our broadcast stalwarts, Tim Miller, had come down with the flu (as has most of Emporia by this point), so I was asked to broadcast Friday’s Emporia High basketball doubleheader. We had plans for me to go to the Globetrotters game at White Auditorium, but with another world tour stop in Kansas coming this week, we made arrangements and I agreed.

My voice was somewhat scratchy going in. It was completely gone going out.

I’ve found out beforehand that I’m not one of those sportscasters that can dial down my call depending on my voice condition. And winter is typically a bad time for my voice anyways, but I figured I’d load up on cough drops and water and be OK.

Uh, no.

The girls game was, honestly, noncompetitive for the most point, so I didn’t really feel the need to put added stress on my call. On top of that, my partner, Steve Inwood, sensed things weren’t going well in the vocal department, so he extended a lot of his analysis into some play-by-play, which helped me as well.

And my voice was still hanging by a thread by the time the boys game started.

In my mind, I needed a second noncompetitive game. Honestly, I needed a change in mindset.

I’ve always approached sports play-by-play with two mental metrics:

  1. Am I accurately calling what’s happening in front of me?
  2. Am I capturing the rhythm, ebb and flow of the contest?

I’ve always prided myself as somebody who can do both reasonably well — because I believe both are critical components of a sports broadcast. You can call the action well, but you lose listeners if you can’t give people a sense of how a specific play fits into the overall flow of the action. On the flip side, you can capture the highlights of a given game — great catchphrases, raising your voice and the like — but if people can’t trust you’re actually telling them what’s happening on the court or the field, well, you’ve lost credibility and you won’t have much of a broadcast career. Unless you’re a conspiracy theorist…but that’s for another post.

Anyways, E-High promptly falls behind by almost double digits, and based on the first few minutes it looks like this will be a yawner. Before the first quarter, however, the Spartans get some things figured out, and just before halftime they take a brief lead, trailing by a point at the half. By this time, the decision to gear down my call has been thoroughly overridden by that two-pronged approach I’ve had in my head for a couple decades at least. I have a sense what’s coming in the second half — a game that comes down to the final four minutes — but I don’t expect eight lead changes in the third quarter followed by a brief burst at the end of the third quarter to give E-High a 4-point lead, followed by another pair of quick buckets to push the lead to eight early in the fourth period.

When you’re calling a run for the home team, especially in a tight game, the energy level goes up and the voice raises to match. In my case, it went from a reasonable facsimile of a voice to a series of nearly incomprehensible squawks as I’m trying to both capture the play and the emotion in the gym.

When the run reverses, the voice comes down but the intensity does not. And that’s what happened. Highland Park scored eight unanswered points in 90 seconds, including two deep three-pointers, to suck all the air out of the gym. They then added six of the next eight points, by my recollection, to take a four-point lead midway through the quarter.

And then the Spartans responded, although they missed a critical pair of free throws with about 2:20 left and another pair with under a minute to go. Upshot: Highland Park leads by four with 20 seconds left, Emporia High hits a pair of free throws and the visitors throw the ball out of bounds.

So you say there’s a chance…

If anybody could tell what I was saying by that point without a translator, congratulations. And with the remaining shreds of my voice, I try to fill in everybody about the last five seconds: missed shot, offensive rebound, forced shot offline, offensive rebound, buzzer. Ball game.

Good guys lose game. Broadcaster’s voice a lost cause a loooong time ago.

Postgame from my microphone is a mixture of a whisper and a croak, and to be honest I should have just let Steve take over — possibly for the entire back half of the doubleheader. As I write this Sunday, the voice is finally starting to come back, although its nowhere close to full strength.

And as I write this, I’ve noticed several things about what it’s like when you don’t have your voice — or, in my case, a critical component of my job:

  1. If your voice is scratchy and squawky when it normally isn’t, your kids will laugh at you. Repeatedly.
  2. I’ve found it’s harder to avoid singing than talking. And the kids have made it so I can’t avoid talking. Such is life.
  3. Whispering at kids to get their attention only goes so far. And in our house, it’s not very far.
  4. There are a host of remedies for a blown-up voice. Many involve tea…and/or ginger…and/or whiskey. Haven’t tried the whiskey-related remedies yet.
  5. Timing is everything. I’m grateful I’ve had the weekend to rest the voice, relatively speaking. Having to turn around and try newscasts the following morning would have been a broadcast disaster in the making.
  6. I’m eternally grateful Sean Thornton saved over the postgame interviews and not the full games from Friday. Although it would be interesting to go back and listen to those at some point waaaaaaaay down the road.

I’m not sure how well the voice will do Monday — or how long it will last before it starts shredding again. And with this being a mild, breezy week fraught with high fire danger, it could be at least the rest of the week before I sound like I normally do. Anyways, thanks for listening in general. And thanks for staying with the broadcast Friday night. Hopefully, we’ll all be back to normal for Substate this week.

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I’m a Reporter

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The past several months have been an amazing and enlightening experience for me and my family. Six months of serving as Emporia Public Schools’ director of community relations have shown me a great deal of what’s involved in a school district, from board meetings to special events to initiatives like the Kansans CAN! vision and the importance of consistent attendance.

I have enjoyed my time and my duties with USD 253, and I love the people I have worked with on a daily basis. I have also loved having a regular work schedule and spending evenings and weekends with my wife and children.

But when I left KVOE in May, I figured I was done with radio — and aside from a basketball game here or there, I believed I was done with media altogether. I honestly thought I would be able to set the reporter in me aside and switch seamlessly into a community relations mindset.

It never happened.

So on Monday I rejoin KVOE. Reason being: I am a reporter.

965844_10201268741863257_404694615_oIt’s that simple. It’s how I’m wired.

Whether it’s the DNA (my mom can write amazing books on quilting, while my aunt spent years as an editor in Minneapolis and Washington, D.C.), whether it’s something about the street I grew up on as a kid (my best friend and next-door neighbor growing up is now the lead sports writer for the Oklahoma Associated Press — and has covered Olympics, Final Fours, Super Bowls and the like), it doesn’t matter.

I am a reporter.

For two decades, I froze when people said that. I’ve repeatedly said my main media interests were sports play-by-play (more recently talk shows) and severe spring weather. Being a reporter? Sure, I did all right in high school at Omaha’s Burke Beat and the North Star. Got a couple awards while at North for my efforts. And, yes, I have always taken pride in both a well-written story and a hard news article that scooped my competition. But me? A reporter? That has never been my focus in media.

Turns out that was my calling after all.

It took me six months out of the field to realize the things I enjoyed — the breaking news, severe weather, play-by-play — were just different parts of the overall reporter picture. And then, as I went along, I realized I liked reporting on community events and legislative matters.

Some reporters gravitate to one discipline — whether it be breaking news, government affairs, features, opinion, weather, community activities or sports. I didn’t. My interests apparently wouldn’t let me.

I’ve had a lot of people question how I came to this realization. I’m not focusing on that, at least not now. What matters to me is that I found my greenest grass — even though I had to leave it behind for a few months to make that discovery. You know the saying, “Life is too short to (fill in the blank here)?” Well, it’s cliched as all get out. But it’s true. Life is too short to discover your true niche in life and then ignore the signs in front of you.

For that, I have to thank God and my wife. God has ways of directing traffic, and after a while it became clear the exit I took was fruitful — but it wasn’t my final career destination. Ginny, meanwhile, realized I was struggling and suggested that I make the call to my former employer. She suffered a lot with my crazy radio schedule the past 14 years, but she said she wanted to see me happy. As fried as I was in mid-May, I was still more satisfied, gratified and fulfilled as a reporter than at any other job I have had. Ginny’s support has meant the world to me, even though it means the schedule craziness returns soon and may never leave us again. We’re working to reduce the crazy, which means I will have to slow myself down as much as anything.

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I also have to thank my former/new bosses at KVOE, who were more than willing to have me back on board. And I have to thank USD 253 for entrusting me with the community relations department this year, even though my department was far more self-sufficient than I could have dreamed and didn’t really need my help that often.

So it’s back to the dark and early, the Morning Show banter, the scanner app toning out potential stories, the hurry-up-and-wait of potential severe weather…the chronicling of life in Emporia, Kansas. I’m ready for it. And I’m grateful that so many people locally have welcomed me back to the airwaves. I hope I can build on the trust developed over the past 14 years and continue the strong tradition of KVOE News. Thank you for the opportunity to come back into your homes and report all the happenings of the Flint Hills.

 

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.

On the course for BBC


My GBLP is declining.

GBLP? What’s THAT?

Well, every year KVOE has our Brewers and Broadcasters Classic at the Emporia, Kan., Country Club. It’s a scramble-format tourney that uses a modified (maybe extra modified would be a better descriptor) Stableford scoring system.

It’s a two-day deal. It’s very popular, usually filling up a week or two before the tourney begins. And for us at the station, it’s all hands on deck.

ALL hands on deck.

We usually take a six-hour shift. For those of us who have a six-day week, we pick our day off. Which for means Sunday morning.

For the first few years, my job was to see which drives on a par-3 were closest to the pin. Closest got a prize. I’ve also spotted for closest approach shot for a separate prize.

The last several years, I’ve been on Hold No.5, spotting for balls leaving the fairway and heading into either “the deep spinach” or the row of trees currently behind me.


(Why spinach? Why not, oh, cabbage or Brussels sprouts or alfalfa? I digress. Actually, no, I don’t. We officially had to dig for a ball in the mushrooms today. The mushrooms!)


And here’s where GBLP comes into play.

It’s not an official statistic. At least, I don’t think it is for golf course workers. But GBLP is short, in my mind, for Golf Ball Location Percentage. And, as I said, mine is slipping fast.

Honestly, I have no idea why I’m on this assignment. My eyesight has never been good (some would say even with the thick or highly-adjusted lenses I’m currently using). Back when I used to live near a public 9-hole course in Omaha, my brother and I would return balls to golfers (and sell others left behind later). One of our unspoken contests, at least as I took it, was to see which one of us could find stray golf balls faster.  He won repeatedly. 

So, as you can see, I may not be cut out for this task.

As I write this, it’s 9:15 am. I’ve been spotting now for 90 minutes and I’m on my sixth (seventh?) group of the front nine. I have had my fourth close call (not quite a near-miss) from incoming missile attacks. And up until this sixsome approached, my GBLP went from 67 percent to 16 percent. I saw four of the six balls land with my first group and just one with my last group.

It seems like this happens every year. It’s normally a high sky, which doesn’t help, and today has minimal cloud cover. 

As mentioned before, I haven’t had the dump-out-of-the-Gator scramble to avoid incoming attacks yet. But it’s coming. 

Honestly, all of us volunteer spotters should eschew the orange vests and be outfitted with these T-shirts, courtesy of The Far Side:


And next year I’ll tell you about the GTVTR.

The Golf Tournament Volunteer Target Rate.  Which just went up…

To be or not to be: Dramatic news writing is the question

News writing is a lot harder than it looks.

Part of that is just the nature of news. We have to get a lot of information out, and for broadcast — radio and TV — we typically don’t have a lot of regurgitation time (insert your own visual here). I’m fortunate in my current position because upper levels of management have given my department the leeway to give a 15-minute news hole for our featured newscasts. This means our staffers have the unmentioned go-ahead to flesh out stories with all the necessary details so our listeners and Web site readers get more details than other broadcast media outlets can provide. It’s not to the level of print journalism — again, the time factor rears its ugly head, especially with the number of stories we’re generating — but it’s one of the things I really like about small-town journalism in general and our station policy in particular.

But part of that is also a desire to, well, spice up the news. And, in some cases, that’s being kind.

I remember a TV news anchor in Omaha from the late 1980s who relayed all information — all information — in the most dramatic terms possible. Car crash? Disastrous, even if it was a fender-bender. Fire? Always destructive — which technically was true, but obviously there are different levels of destruction from such incidents.

It didn’t take long for said anchor to depart the TV station for greener pastures and more mundane news writing (and news delivering) to return to that station’s airwaves.

The problems with dramatic news writing, especially for basic and breaking news, are severalfold. First, it’s distracting to the listener and to the Web site reader. Second, it’s numbing to the audience, especially when people eventually figure out the adjectives and the actions don’t match.

Problems don’t stop there on the broadcast side because a dramatically-written story automatically causes an anchor to change his delivery emphasis — and in some cases to leave what’s actually important underemphasized.

News stories written with a lot of flowery language may generate more online clicks for a certain period of time. However, once readers realize there’s much ado about very little, they will find other news sources that focus on the truth, regardless of how boring the details may be. And your news operation will suffer a damaged reputation as a result.

As far as I’m concerned, a news department’s focus should be in the following order.

  1. Truth in all aspects
  2. Engage with details
  3. Entertain if dictated by content

As you can see, embellishment of details is nowhere on this list. However, go back to the paragraph about online traffic. Once grandiose language is allowed and online traffic seems to increase, a news reporter can be easily tempted to either write things out of context, blow things out of proportion or write things that simply can’t happen just so more people come on board the Web site. Many have taken to the temptation…to the detriment of the profession.

After having seen dramatic language — both elsewhere and, unfortunately, in my department — and after hearing from people over the course of time, it’s my experience that the story content drives readership and listenership far more than how dramatically it’s presented.

Basic is boring when it comes to news writing, especially for hard news. There’s no doubt about that. But given the choice between dramatic and dry, basic is also best.

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

BOSS

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.

Some Things That Just Make No Sense

Head in Hands

Everybody sees some things that just make you scratch your head. As in, these things make absolutely, positively no sense.

A lot of them have to do with what we say. My daughter is getting a kick out of why we park on driveways and drive on parkways. Things like that. And no, I have no answer for that question.

Just in general, the English language is another good example. Why can’t we go good/gooder/goodest or its reverse, bad/badder/baddest, when we could go high/higher/highest? Insert your examples here.

Some other thoughts on our language, specifically when it comes to some unpaired words:

*Why do we never hear of the gruntled former employee? And what qualifies as gruntled, anyways?

*Is sheveled like being shoveled? And if people can be disheveled, how come you never hear of sidewalks being dishoveled?

*I told somebody I was “in whack” a few years ago. I think that person is still out of whack as a result.

*It’s easy to be couth and kempt, but you never hear of that.

*The next time I broadcast a baseball game, I’m going to say a pitcher who gave up a bunch of runs came out of the inning scathed. And I’ll monitor my social media to see how many people ask what the heck I was saying or what I meant by that.

*Speaking of work, I’m going cognito back home after my shift ends. Hard to go incognito anywhere with my job.

*If the Kansas City Royals win their first World Series in 30 years this fall, I would hope for some ruly celebrations. I’m guessing those won’t catch the headlines.

*Ungainly and unwieldy mean awkward, but they roll off the tongue much more smoothly than gainly and wieldy.

Have a gruntled and couth Labor Day…and an ept time with your grilling endeavors.

Aftermath of a Football Road Trip

2015 STUDIO

I think it was 2:17 am when we pulled into Emporia State’s HPER parking lot this morning. Fitting, because I think I had 217 seat adjustments from when we left Joplin, Mo., following the Hornets’ 38-20 win over Missouri Southern, back to the Flint Hills.

Honestly, as much as I was looking forward to watching ESU open the football season (and, hopefully, have a much better season than what I witnessed last year), I was dreading the impact Friday. The Day After. We had left around 1:30 pm to make sure we got to Joplin in way more than enough time to get set up, test the equipment, get interviews if we wanted to and settle into the broadcast instead of scrambling into it — and trust me, there is a difference in the finished product if you’re scrambling. Leaving when we did also gave me another rather large window to plan how I’d attack Friday’s schedule.

The plan: Get in around 2:30. Skip sleep (because I knew I’d snooze right through every alarm known to man outside of a tornado siren directly in my ear). Shower and be back out the door by 3 am. Write up my morning’s self-assignments by 9 am. Hope the Morning Show doesn’t sound like Rush guitarist Alex Lifeson’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame acceptance speech.

Oh yeah — Record midday, plop stuff on the website and be unconscious by 10 am. Sleep until I wake up or when Ginny comes home, whichever comes first.

Well, it’s 2:20 am and I can already tell I’m going to be off schedule and not in a good way. I’ll leave it to your imagination what happened. Anyways, by the time I’ve gotten showered, let the dog out and given hugs, it’s 3:10 am. Ten minutes is an eternity in broadcasting, but I’m still in pretty good shape.

Writing goes up to just shy of 5 am before I take a break for caffeine. I’m at the same time impressed and a bit worried, thinking I’ve waited too long to start gulping down the Coke. At least short-term, that worry turns out to be unfounded. I’m still conscious and alert (something you hear on the scanner all the time) — right up until I take a quick break to pause. That’s when nice, peaceful darkness lurks until I snap back to the land of the conscious.

Surprisingly, the Morning Show goes fairly well. I don’t stumble much more than normal during the newscasts and my train of thought doesn’t derail in spectacular fashion. By 9 am, though, I can tell the three cans of Coke just ain’t cutting it.

coke tower

I still have one more story to write, another to update with sound, two calls to make on a weekend story and the web to update. And the yawns have started. In fact, they can’t stop. I’m actually thinking I could fall asleep sitting bolt upright…or get whiplash if I lean back…thinking….skngxxxxxxxx…

I’m resigning myself to the fact I’ll have to adjust my schedule. And I’m needing something — anything — to get my motivation back to where it was six hours earlier.

What’s In Outdoors ends and I have to walk up and down the hall a few times, doing some strategic air drumming in the process to get the blood going and caffeine redistributed.

9:30 am: Ron comes back and orders Greg and I to find some time to take a nap. No problem there. So long as I get these stories done and posted.

10:10 am: Stories written but putting one thought in front of the other is now getting reeeeeally hard. Listening to Pat Metheny, while relaxing, isn’t helping.

10:20 am: Change of music will have to happen. Time for Dire Straits’ Alchemy. Maybe that will help.

10:25 am: The more air drumming I do, the less work I do. Grrrr.

10:35: Singing helps to keep me awake — and I can type at the same time. I can hear Greg and AJ getting annoyed.

11 am: Web almost done. But I’m missing one picture I wanted for the front — because I blitzed that out two weeks ago. Lengthy bleep.

11:02 am: Now realizing I have ingested enough caffeine to likely keep me awake the rest of the afternoon. Looooooooooonnnnnnnnnnnnnnnggggg bleeeeep.

11:20: Time to resume recording. So much for 10 am. Now the goal is noon. And I have 18 minutes of news loaded for the midday AM cast. And I’m leaving stuff out. Cannot remember what I was doing 10 seconds ago.

11:27: Almost said “partly chucky” in the headlines forecast. If you want to know what partly chucky is, don’t ask. I have no idea. Apparently I’m not totally chucky today, though.

11:28: Puberty returns. That was weird.

11:34: In an effort to maintain a clean working space, AJ starts to dismantle my Coke tower. Said tower falls apart. Chuck’s rendition of Dr. Giggles (hey, we all have one) breaks out.

11:50: Final check of recorded material. Brain alternately hyper and crashy. Saved midday ag report to the wrong cart, but otherwise everything is clear.

11:55 am: Scanner….nooooo….OK. Patient transfer. We’re good.

So I’m out around noon. A busier day than I thought and, frankly, hoped, but there was some worthy news this morning. Accessibility concerns, blue-green algae impact, United Way starting its general fundraising drive and other stories. All told, seven stories today — including two rather hefty pieces — with three of those needing updates as the morning progressed.

Another #bya #sggd day. Now it’s time for pizza and nap..and to tear down this Coke tower. Chat with you guys again when its #darkandearly tomorrow.

2015 ESU MSSU

Stand Up (And Give Me Some Actual Information)

index

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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