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ROBB AUSTIN'S TURN

Life as a News Reporter

February 10, 2011

Life as a news reporter is exciting. In the old days, reporters were not paid very well but more than made up for it from the excitement of the job itself.

That’s the way it remains today.

In my own case, as a young ‘beat’ reporter for a local daily newspaper, I had more than my fair share of interesting and exciting assignments.

These included scores of fires, murders, plane crashes, automobile wrecks and accidents as well as politics and sporting events of all kinds.

My assignments included interviewing both actors Robert De Niro and Meryl Streep on the set of The Deer Hunter, the 1978 Academy Award winning Movie of the Year.

I also had the opportunity to interview famed defense attorney F. Lee Bailey during a local murder trial, as well as presidential candidates Jimmy Carter and Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson during the 1976 presidential primaries.

I chatted freely with Franklin D. Roosevelt Jr., son of the former President, and mixed with a variety of other stars and starlets, too numerous to mention.

My all-time favorite though remains the reporting of a Friday night high school football game between western Pennsylvania rivals Ringgold High and South Allegheny.  Ringgold featured a little known quarterback named Joe Montana.

I recall the essence of my lead paragraph from that story, it went something like this: “Senior quarterback Joe Montana, who threw more passes on Saturday night than a sailor on weekend leave, led Ringgold blah, blah, blah”.

There were many other highlights, but the fact is, reporting is a great job, and remains so, and is a tremendous training ground for any future endeavor.

It’s also a heady job because everyone wants to be close to a news reporter, after all, a reporter has the ability to put someone’s name in print, or promote a favorite cause or charity, and that’s heady stuff indeed.

There’s a tremendous sense of comradeship in a newsroom and it adds to a cozy feeling of family, although in modern day media there’s a bit of hardball rivalry that did not exist years ago.

Despite the meager compensation, reporters are the beneficiary of complimentary tickets, and people in the community are anxious to buy you a drink or dinner, or both. This practice enables reporters to broaden their news sources which are important in covering the news, and also adds to the excitement of the job.

The downside to accepting these “perks” is that it colors or influences the reporting of actual news stories, and on occasion it does, although hardly at all when hard news coverage is involved.

In the old days, reporters had very little special training. Most did not have college degrees but they certainly knew how to gather facts, and present them in a logical way that could be easily understood by the reader.

Old timers also had great news sources within a police or fire department, or at city hall, and were often seen drinking at the local pub until the wee hours of the morning cultivating those contacts.

That’s pretty much over today. For better or worse, news reporters live in a kind of “bubble” whereby the newsroom is closed off to the general public. Reporters tend to deal strictly with official government spokespersons for their information, and rarely spend the night time hours cultivating unique and different sources.

Reporters are also not so free to accept a lunch with whomever they choose, and tickets to events, and other free “perks” are frowned upon by media companies for fear that a reporter could be journalistically “compromised” by the situation.

The result is a sanitized version of the daily news that pretty much sounds the same around the world, despite there being hundreds of major outlets reporting on the news.

The old days of cultivating sources, working around the clock, and relying on your own sources and instincts to report the news are fun to remember.

It was a life of daily excitement, perks, and very little pay.

Yet, if I could rewind it, and do it all again, I would.