Reporter 101: Think Differently

You never know what you are going to get when you go out to tell a story. Remember this quote, “Life is like a box of chocolates…” Exactly.

A few years back, a photographer I worked with came to me and asked me to check out a book he had picked up from the local historical society. (Don’t let your eyes glaze over yet.) It was called “Poems on Stones,” and it was a collection of poems engraved on headstones around Stamford, CT in the late 1800s/early 1900s. Sounds like an action-packed thriller, eh? But, I will admit, there was something cool about these poems, and I love old-timey stuff. This photographer was also particularly tough to work with, and I thought if I could turn this story, and not shoot myself, I would somehow be catapulted to super-hero status in the newsroom.

So, now, we need someone to help us tell the story. I called the historical society. They told me they knew just the guy, Richard Roberts, a retired historian. They gave me his phone number. I called. And called. And called. This guy had no answering machine, and never picked up. I was thinking, here’s my perfect “out.” But, remember, I was determined. So, one day, I called while I was checking my email and I let the phone ring about 30 times. Finally, Roberts picked up. Turns out he’s usually in his garden, and it takes him a long time to walk back to the phone. We talked – my fast and impatient New Yorker style and his slow, studied, thoughtful speech. Finally, we set up a day to do the interview.

Roberts was in his 70s but not a spry 70s; he was slow to talk, slow to move, and very thoughtful. He spent his free time documenting these forgotten tombstones. He was a good interview, but it took him a long time to get to the point. I thought to myself this is going to be tough. Then, we set out to go to the cemetery where these stones and poems stood. That’s when it all got interesting. When he was out in his element, he became alive with excitement. And he was damn witty. I was stunned at how this man literally transformed when he was doing what he loved to do. (I bet you wil be too.)

We were nominated for a NY Emmy that year for this story, but I almost gave up on it several times. Turns out even the most sedate and quiet person has something to say, and is passionate about something. And THAT’S the story.

Backstory P.S. – Remember that ornery photographer I spoke of in the 2nd paragraph? He did a fabulous job shooting this story, as he always does, he’s very talented. But, in the editing process, he became bored, and dropped it. Who does that? I had to fight to get someone else to edit. A brand-new, inexperienced junior editor picked it up – no one else would –  and proceeded to make it her life work. She was grateful for the opportunity to have something, anything to edit, and her dedication and hard work paid off.


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