A reporter’s soul, from the historian’s heart

Through college and for awhile after, I thought I would be an historian. 

That changed during the Iranian hostage crisis, in the late 1970s, when radical Islamists seized the U.S. embassy in Teheran. President Jimmy Carter, after months of frustration, ordered a rescue attempt. A score of American soldiers died when the air intake of the helicopters that bore them failed in a desert landing. News of this broke in the United States late on a week day.

I had been writing commentaries for The Daily O’Collegian in Stillwater for several years while earning my Bachelor of Arts and then a Master of Arts in History.

The editor of the O’Colly, the campus daily at Oklahoma State University, called me. While we had conflicting political views, she knew I was, among other things, a student of Middle East history. 

She said she planned to deploy her reporters all across campus to get student reaction, and wanted me to pull together an analysis and help provide the overview of reaction on campus – where there were at the time hundreds of Iranian students split more or less 50-50 between the autocratic Shah, on one side, and the Ayatollah Khomeini, on the other, with his radical anti-West supporters.

Late into the night we compiled campus-oriented reports and I worked as part of the news and editorial team, more closely than at any point during my years as a non-journalist at the O’Colly. We produced a four-page “wrap.” When it got back from the printer, a large group gathered in the early morning hours to place the regular edition – the long-since printed regular daily – inside the “wrap.” 

The delivery guys were stressed to get the papers into the racks on and near the campus. So, those of us who still had energy wound up helping with the deliveries. 

The result: When students began to steam on campus for early morning classes, the regular O’Coly was there – with reporting and analysis oriented to the events that had occurred just hours before half way around the world, and the impact of all that on us.

I was exhausted, exhilirated and curiously energized. 

I walked home to Married Student Housing at the northwest edge of campus. It was cool and the sun was beginning to rise in the east. As I walked in, my wife greeted me and said she’d get some breakfast for me. 

As she worked, I told her: “You know that old expression about daily journalism being the first draft of history? I just lived that. I’ll always be an historian. But I think I have the soul of a reporter.

You may contact Patrick B. McGuigan at Patrick@capitolbeatok.com and follow us on Twitter: @capitolbeatok.