Monday, September 7, 2015

News v Story

     It was a lifetime ago in a small town in northern Ohio where I was working for $1.25 an hour as a reporter.
    "Local news" consisted of everything from barn fires, to village council snits, to fender-benders, to the weekly doings of the Rotary Club - all of which was part of my "beat."

   Obituaries were among the most important stories of the day, phoned in the owners of two local funeral homes and written by the paper's cigar-chewing City Editor who referred to the dead as "stiffs."
  Today, looking back as a 77-year-old former journalist, those underpaid days of more than a half-century ago were among the best and worst of my life.
  Certainly, it was the first time the adult world viewed me as "somebody" -- a opposed to so-and-so's son, or a student seated in alphabetical order between the last names that began with C and E.

  In short, words like empowering and validating were how it was when I became John deGroot of the Kent-Ravenna Record-Courier with its circulation of 23,000 souls.
   Now anointed with press credentials, even Kent State University President Dr. George Bowman himself   would exchange bits of local gossip with me as we waited in the check-out line at Ferrara's Supermarket.
    It was during my  initiation as a small town reporter that I discovered a story had more than one definition.\
    Before, beginning with The Little Engine that Could, a "story" began here and ended there .. and was told to capture and maintain the interest of the audience.
    As a reporter, I learned a  typical newspaper "story" was based on a collection of facts -- beginning with those most important followed by additional facts arranged in order of their diminishing importance.
     Which meant newspaper "stories" were designed to be less and less interesting to their reader.   
     Which made a great deal of sense for journalists assigned to "cover" events via telegraph.
     Of course, all this was eons before the media became more interested in  the massage than the message.

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