A Day in the Life: Journalism in a hurry, and the soul of a reporter
Published: April 24th, 2020
(April 24, 2020) This is a true story.
Forty years ago, I was in my final semester at Oklahoma State University. I had earned a B.A. and a Master’s in History. Then, I garnered teacher certification in several areas. I originally intended to teach in Tulsa at a Catholic School (social studies), or in Bartlesville at public schools (Latin). But in the four years I was getting the M.A. and then certification, I began to write commentaries and occasional news stories for the campus newspaper, The Daily O’Collegian. I was pegged as “conservative,” but in some instances did not fit in anyone’s “box.”
At that time, OSU had one of the largest concentrations of students from Iran (some preferred to call their homeland Persia) on any American campus. The students were divided about 50/50 between supporters of the authoritarian former ruler, the Shah, and backers of the radical Islamist Ayatollah Khomeini.
My personal views were strongly opposed to Khomeini, but I had cordial relations with members in both camps from Iran (Persia), in part because of involvement in student government, in part due to my writing.
Then came the Iranian hostage crisis, beginning in November 1979.
Tensions on campus soared. There are many stories worth telling about those months.
The spectacular and horrific failure of the American military’s attempted hostage rescue mission came on April 24, 1980. It happened at night time over there, and afternoon/day time in Stillwater.
I had a reasonably deep level of knowledge about the region, and had often spoken about Israel, Iran, Iraq and Aghanistan both in the community at off-campus forums and on-campus.
When news of the desert disaster got to Stillwater, America, the editor of The O’Collegian called every reporter, asking them to come to the O’Colly office, including me.
The next day’s newspaper had already been printed, but we were told the O’Colly would do a “wrap” – a single sheet equal to four pages that would “wrap” around the paper then in the printing process.
We spread out over campus to get student reactions – both Americans, Iranians (Persians) and other international students. We worked like banshees. People wrote up their notes and the editor compiled them – asking me to help – into overviews touching both the national implications and the campus reaction.
We finished the writing in the early morning, sending it to the printer. I recall that pizza and soda was shared along the way.
When the “wrap” got back to the O’Colly, it was long past the time papers would normally (wee hours of the night/early morning) be in racks on and near campus.
The delivery guys had more work than they could do in the time available. Editors, reporters and a commentator were recruited to (by hand) wrap each and every regular edition within the special edition.
We spread out over the campus with bundles and directions on how many to place, and where.
It was about 3:30 or 4 a.m. as the papers got into the racks. With the extra hands and people, it went quickly. In some cases, students walked up to grab the papers.
The editor had told us to go home and rest, after delivery.
I understood better than before the process of taking complex information, distilling it and sharing it with fellow citizens – and doing it in a hurry, but well.
As the sun rose in the east, I went home to Married Student Housing, where I lived with my wife Pam. Our unborn child, Josef Bruce, would be born in early May.
I walked into our apartment at “Vet Village” (the name dating from the post-World War II era). No cell phones in those days, but I’d found a landline and alerted Pam an hour or two earlier with an approximate time I would be home.
She was making us breakfast as I walked in the screen door.
She asked, “How did it go, honey?”
I told her about the frenzy, the hard work, the fast writing/editing, waiting for the wrap, the deliveries (it was the only time I helped with that)
I now truly understood, I told her, what the professor who taught “the writing of history” had said to me a dozen times after I started those commentaries for the campus newspaper:
“Journalism is the first draft of history.”
She looked at me after I repeated that and just shook her head.
And I looked back at her to say, “I always thought I’d be a teacher of history. I’ll probably still do that. But now I know. Honey, I have the soul of a reporter.”