Today, two different journalist friends completely independent of each other asked me to write a book. I was flattered, but I knew what they were getting at. See, I’m extremely passionate about telling stories and am always imparting the knowledge gained in my 10 years in TV news to those just starting out. And often, I can’t stop! I get so worked up about my stories. I love talking about how they came to be. Picking the perfect word is a thrill. So, I decided I’d blog about some of my favorite stories. And if you’re a reporter just starting out, maybe you’ll learn something you didn’t know. And if you just like the backstory behind what goes on TV, you might find the backstories interesting.
I met Barry Albert of Windsor Locks, Connecticut, after calling the Wounded Warrior Project. I wanted to tell a story about the sacrifices people made for our freedom in the wake of 9/11. It was for a 5-part series I researched, produced, and reported for WPIX-TV. The organizer told me about Albert, said he lost a leg fighting in Iraq. One word kept popping up in my head – courageous. I wanted to hear his story. And I wanted to tell it too.
In early September 2011, photographer Greg Bryant and I drove to meet Albert. It took about an hour and a half. When we got there, Albert was soft-spoken, polite, and surprisingly, very nonchalant about his sacrifice. He also had a quiet wit. He invited us in and we started to set up for the interview. But, his dog was going wild. I mean, this pup was barking up a storm. We plugged away, I started to ask questions, but the dog barking was so loud, we couldn’t get it done. I asked him, “Is there somewhere else we can do the interview? Maybe outside?” He said, “Sure.” We headed outside and he took us to his garage, and we were blown away by the several intricate display cases of model cars that he had painstakingly put together over the years. They were shielded from dust by plastic. And there were hundreds of them. This was a serious hobby. When I pulled my jaw back off the floor, I asked him, “Why all the cars? How long have you been doing this?” He replied, “I think it’s kind of therapeutic when you’re working on the cars, you’re not thinking about anything else.” It was then I knew that we needed to incorporate them into the story. This man had a story to tell. Lesson #1: Look around. Ask questions. Because, you could might miss an amazing opportunity. We most likely would have found out about his hobby once we started the interview anyway, but it just helped me form my opinion on what kind of guy Albert is – understated, not a show-off in any way.
As we set up, we made small talk. I couldn’t get over how laid-back and witty Albert was. He made small little jokes, and kept the mood light. Even though we were about to talk about what was a tragic sacrifice and ordeal, he made sure we were comfortable.
This story was easy to write -and that brings us to Lesson #2: it’s often the stuff you and your photographer talk about in the car on the way back from the story, that is EXACTLY what you should put in your script (listen to my first line). Greg and I talked about what a cool, laid-back, funny guy Albert was – and how you’d never know, let’s say, if he was wearing long pants, that he lost his leg. He didn’t gloat about it, he didn’t focus on it, he didn’t make a big deal about it, it was just something that happened. Don’t get me wrong – it was a horrific experience, but it was one he got through with the help of people who lost even more than he did. This man is a true inspiration. I showed this story to one of those 2 journalists I talked about earlier, and she asked why I didn’t submit this for an Emmy. The answer is because it costs a lot of money! And while I would love to add another trophy to my shelf, I really don’t need an award to be proud of this one. I feel like I honored Barry Albert’s sacrifice. And that means more to me than anything.