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Thursday, May 13, 2004

Get off my chest

Last summer, I was nearly running out the back door of my office. Television news scripts crunched in my hand, an earpiece dangling behind me like a rat tail, and face powder to hide the sweat beads that were forming at my hairline, I barely paid any attention to the intercom page. I was due somewhere very soon and if I didn't make it, the bosses would be irked.

"Otis, you have a call in the newsroom. Otis, call in the newsroom."

Understand, I have a problem. When the phone rings, more often than not, I answer it. When it comes to work, it's almost part of the job decription. You never know who will be on the other end of the line. That is, you never know when Franco may not be dead anymore.

I stopped and had the call transferred to a phone closest to the back door. I didn't know the voice, but I trusted that the woman was who she said she was. She told me I needed to call an old source of mine. And soon.

Running ever shorter on time, I made the call. My old source, a trusted source, a good man, started his story. I don't remember much about what happened in the next couple hours, because I could only think about what I had heard.

Had a recent MSN search for "Otis, TV news reporter" not shown up in my logs recently, I might've told the whole story here. Instead, I'll tell you another time and let this suffice: The story was horrible. My source wasn't only a source, but a victim as well. And not the only one.

That afternoon began nine months of work, interupted only by my father's brain surgery and a presidential primary. I spent off hours and downtime working to convince my superiors that, while a legally dangerous story, it was a story we morally needed to air. That is, if there were two victims, there were more.

For the first time in my career (which is getting longer and longer every day), I felt like I had come across a story that demanded my attention, heart, soul, and drive. If the story was to be told, it was up to me to tell it.

After eight months, I was so sure the story was going to make air, I gave my sources a date and time to watch. The story had been reviewed by no less than 20 people, including some very expensive attorneys. It was a go. I was about to make a difference.

At the last minute, one of my superiors decided the story was dead. It wasn't going to happen and there was nothing I could do to change it. I had to tell my source and all the people I got to trust me to do the story that I had failed them.

Then I went and got really drunk. For about two weeks.

Monday night, I was out of town, reporting on a story of relatively little importance. I was four hours away from home, but only a cell-phone's reach away.

The calls started to come in about 6:30pm. One of my competitors was airing promos for the story. The story was about to be told.

Over the course of the last three nights, the story has aired. It's getting wide response and all of my assumptions about the possiblity of more victims seem to be coming true.

And today I'm still conflicted.

The greater good that I was seeking the entire time has been accomplished. The story is out there like it needed to be. That is all that really matters.

But there's that part of me wishing I was telling the story. That's the selfish part.

If you put the two together, you'll understand why I don't feel much like being a journalist anymore.


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