“Back to you in the studio, Bob.”

Sunday, January 27, 2013

That reporter, the one in the title that’s throwing you back to the studio? It’s Bob. The same Bob that’s throwing you back to the studio. Confusing, I know. I’ll explain in a moment. But first…

Downtown Harrisonburg

For those of you who don’t know me, which is pretty much all of you, this piece may seem like I’m mocking small town life or, heaven forbid you should draw this conclusion, that I’m making fun of Bob. Far from it. Quite to the contrary, this, no kidding, is about journalism at its very best. It’s about the spirit of a free press, about a dedication to keeping the public informed that no amount of big corporate network money can buy. It’s about a young person, a man in this case, working hard and paying his dues. You either have it or you don’t. Bob does, and that’s that.

Years ago, my wife and I got married the summer after we graduated from college and moved to a small, rural town in the Midwest to go to graduate school. We had both grown up and gone to college, where we met, in huge metropolitan areas swarming with people. The small town was, I thought, a pleasant change of pace, but there were some things about big city life that I missed. The news, for example. Big budget, big city, very polished, very professional local news.

I’m an early riser. I’m the reason the news starts at 5 AM or earlier. So there I would be, in the frigid cold winter of my first year in graduate school, putzing around the living room/kitchen of our apartment, getting ready for class, while my gorgeous wife, love of my life, was still sawing logs in our bedroom. Naturally, I’d watch the news.

At that time of the morning, there was this guy. I remember his name, but won’t tell you. He sat at his desk, not a desk like Brian Williams on NBC, the big glass kind with the live screen on the front, if that’s not a special effect. Just a desk. Next to his desk, our left, his right, was a box. And in the box was a duck. Think I’m kidding? I’m not. I’m very creative, but not even I could make this up. Every once and a while, when this guy was reading the farm report and local news, the duck – who I assume was only paid “scale” – would fly out of his box onto the desk, a distance of two, maybe three feet. It’s not something Brian Williams has had to worry about, not lately at least.

My big city sensibilities notwithstanding, after a time, I became addicted to the show, so much so that, watching it every morning, I became transfixed by the weather. He didn’t have a satellite. There was no animated screen, no special weather effects. Just a map of the united states with numbers stuck on it showing the temperature in the big cities across the country. And I began to notice a pattern. He would start with telling me… I’m assuming that I was the only one watching. …the local temperature. “Right now, it’s -17 outside.” (Brrrr.) And then he would read temperatures from other cities, moving east to west across the country. And every morning, when it still dark outside, he’d finish the weather by saying, “And in Los Angeles, it’s 82 degrees.”

My affection for small town life aside, I applied to UCLA and moved to their graduate program at the end of my second semester at Frostbite Falls University. Back to the big city and big budget local news, and the rest is history, all thanks to this stalwart early morning news guy, and his duck.

One anchor, one reporter, same guy, breaking news…

Friends of mine have recently moved to a small rural town where the “he” of the two of them has gone to work. While I’ve never seen this broadcast myself, they tell me that there’s a local TV station that has only one anchor, no reporters and that actually shares a weatherperson with another station. (How’s that even possible?) Well, one reporter, but it’s the same guy. We’ll call him “Bob.” All by himself, in an age of huge budget network and 24 hour cable news, he delivers the local news to his community. All by himself, without even a duck. (I think… I hope there’s also a cameraman/woman.) And that got me thinking.

This guy doesn’t just read the news. This is no talking head or multi-million dollar suit with writers and producers. Bob is actually getting in his Hyundai Accent… No fancy satellite truck at this station. …Filling it up with regular out his own pocket. Going places, interviewing people with a camcorder they bought a Best Buy and rushing back to the studio to queue up the tape himself. All this, to bring my friends and their neighbors the local news.

I wonder how he covers breaking news. “Oh, my.” His wife calls him while he’s on the air to tell him that something has happened downtown, which she knows because she’s watching another station. “We’ve just heard that police are… More on that in a moment after this commercial break.” And then he gets into his car and drives to the story where, after the commercials, he does a live remote. Unbelievable. And then, what, drives back to the studio to finish the news? “Thanks, Bob,” he says to himself. “Good reporting. I’ll take it from here.”

Well, Bob may never win an Emmy, and there may be no Pulitzer in his future although you never can tell. Probably no eight figure – all of them to the left of the decimal point – salary and summer home in the Hamptons or South Beach. But, hands down, there is one thing Bob does have, as much or more of it as the big network anchors. My respect.

-wf

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