David Bruce: Media Anecdotes

• In February 2009, the Tucson Weeklycelebrated 25 years of existence. Since most alternative newspapers don’t last that long, it was and is something to celebrate. Douglas Biggers and a friend named Mark Goehring started the newspaper. Mr. Biggers wrote in the newspaper’s 25th-anniversary edition, “It should have died a quick and easy death, since it was started by two 24-year-olds with no money, limited experience and virtually no qualifications to assume the monikers of editor and publisher. The city had a nasty reputation for chewing up and spitting out all attempts to start publications that were alternatives to the daily papers. That the Tucson Weeklycontinues to thrive and can celebrate 25 years of publication is nothing short of a miracle.” One of the miracles that kept the newspaper alive was that they never received a bill for printing it for the newspaper’s entire first year of existence. They had asked for two weeks’ credit, and they marveled as the two weeks’ credit turned into 50 weeks’ credit, during all of which time they were making the newspaper grow. At the end of the year, they contacted their printer and set up a meeting to discuss their credit situation. It was about time, because they now owed over $100,000 in printing costs. They soon discovered why they had received a year’s credit: An accounting clerk at the printer’s offices did not want to confront them about their bill, so the clerk had let the credit continue. Mr. Biggers remembers, “The suits from Texas came to town soon thereafter, and the story ends with a lawsuit that was settled out of court after a series of misadventures with attorneys and a judge pro tem who I am convinced (and whose name I cannot recall) was a fan of the paper and somehow enabled us to prevail against formidable odds.” In the end, the Tucson Weeklysurvived, which is something worth celebrating.

• Chicago reporter Harry Romanoff was a good man on the telephone, and he impersonated many notabilities in order to get information. After a Chicago police officer was killed, newspapers wanted a photograph of the police officer, but his family was secluded and would not admit into the house any of the Chicago reporters, including Jack McPhaul, who worked at the Examinerwith Mr. Romanoff. However, the door of the house opened, and the widow asked, “Where’s the Examinerman?” Mr. McPhaul came forward, and the widow let him inside, led him to the telephone, and said, “The captain wants to talk to you.” Not surprisingly to Mr. McPhaul, Mr. Romanoff was on the telephone. Mr. Romanoff said, “Don’t let on. She thinks I’m the district captain. I’ve told her the Examineris the police department’s best friend. She’ll give you his picture. Hustle it down here.” Mr. McPhaul left the house with a photograph of the slain police officer, much to the disgust and envy of the other rival reporters.

• National Public Radio commentator Daniel Schorr had an extraordinarily long career, and he was still working hard in his 90s. Of course, in that time, he had experienced and been a part of much history, including being on President Richard M. Nixon’s “enemies list.” He said about his younger colleagues at NPR, “They frequently come to me and ask about Watergate. I’ve become ‘Mr. History.’” Unfortunately, some of his younger colleagues have little sense of history. For example, Mr. Schorr told a story about a person who said to him, “Daniel, I had a question. You covered the Spanish-American War and …”—of course, the Spanish-American War occurred in 1898, while Mr. Schorr was born in 1916. Mr. Schorr does, of course, use his knowledge of history in his work; he says that “one thing I consciously try to do in the commentaries is take today’s development and stack it up against a history of what might have happened before.”

• In 1987, the Los Angeles Lakers won the first two games of the NBA Championships, beating the Boston Celtics. Laker Magic Johnson worried after the second game that his teammates, including Michael Cooper, were spending too much time talking to reporters—something that can lead to cockiness and overconfidence, which are not what you want to have when facing a tough opponent. Magic whispered to Michael to end the interview. Michael kept talking, so Magic tapped Michael on the shoulder and told him it was time to end the interview—now. This could have led to a disagreement between teammates, but Michael respected Magic, so he smiled and ended the interview, telling the reporters, “Well, you heard him.” The Lakers became NBA Champions, defeating the Celtics four games to two.

• As an employee at the Chicago Sun-Times, Roger Ebert was one of the reporters who spent a lot of time at Billy Goat’s and at Riccardo’s. Reporters from the Chicago Daily Newsspent much time at both places, too. Billy Goat’s was a bar, and Riccardo’s was an Italian restaurant. When Riccardo’s was sold, a Chicago Sun-Timesreporter interviewed the seller, who said that he had enjoyed being the owner of the restaurant, with one exception: “On Friday nights, they let the animals out of the zoo.” John McHugh, a Daily Newsreporter, read the article, and then told Roger, “Ebert, he means us.”

• At one time, sportswriters were a wild and crazy bunch who used to have fun. For example, Texas sportwriters Gary Cartwright, Blackie Sherrod, and Bud Shrake used to wear capes and leotards and pretend to be Les Flying Punzars, acrobatic Italians who came from a mysterious somewhere. Their specialty was the triple somersault, which unfortunately they were always unable to perform because they lacked a trapeze. By the way, Mr. Sherrod used to refer to sports as the “perspiring arts.”

• Not every reporter knows much about music, even when assigned to write an article about musicians. When the Beatles first came to the United States, an American reporter asked what they most wanted to see. The Beatles replied, “Muddy Waters and Bo Diddley.” Surprised by the answer, the reporter asked, “Where’s that?”

• President Lyndon Johnson once put his face close to the face of White House reporter Hugh Sidey and said, “Every reporter I ever met has a character flaw. What’s yours?”

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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