Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Columns

January 13, 2014

Researched words on the printed page linger long after the ink dries

— — Within the past few weeks, I have had three people talk to me about some of the articles that I wrote in the Rivers section of our annual Pride edition that was distributed in late September of 2013. One had just read the section during the Christmas holiday, and was eager to learn more about one of the stories. The others were just generally interested in the geological history of the region.

I’ve been putting off having hip replacement surgery for a couple of months and I told my wife on last Sunday morning that I was thinking about scheduling surgery this year to coincide with the time we’re researching and writing our Pride edition stories. Of course, she laughed because she knows how difficult that section is on me every year. Then she said, “Sounds like a plan,” and left it at that.

I’ve worked on Progress and Pride editions every year since 1986 with the “Twin-State Marketer.” In my younger years, it didn’t seem to be as tough, but as I’ve aged ... Well, there’s only so many words that one finger can type and I think I’m pushing toward the outer marker in that envelop.

The fact that people continue to ask me about stories I researched and wrote last summer reminded me about a story that a friend of mine told me several years ago.

Bob Auman, now public relations manager for Norfolk Southern Railway in Atlanta, Ga., used to be my media contact in the NS Pocahontas Division. In the fall of 1995 when I had a lot more teeth than I do now, I worked as assignments editor at WVVA-TV. Before I left the newspaper, I was talking to Bob about jumping ship to go into television and told him I thought that was where media was headed.

Bob, a newsman’s newsman with years experience before the masthead prior to joining the NS family, took his time responding, then said that he wanted to share a story with me. Earlier in the year, there had been a legislative push to require the railroad to find a way to cover coal cars so coal dust — also called “fines” — didn’t escape the cars and fall on the residences of homes in the communities where the railroad ran. He said that a reporter with a Roanoke TV station called him and set up an appointment to meet with him the following day to interview him on the subject.

Coal dust along the mainline had been an issue for some time, and the railroad had developed some technology to address the issue. As a result, there was plenty of material available on the topic. Bob said that he gathered up all the information he could find, took it home and familiarized himself with all the potential talking points he might encounter.

He said that he continued researching the issue the next morning, and when the time of the appointment with the TV reporter arrived, he met the film crew at an NS grade crossing near Roanoke, where he gave a thorough explanation of each aspect of the issue and told what the railroad was doing to protect the public.

When the story was broadcast, Bob said the reporter explained the issues involved and included B-roll of communities where loaded coal trains operated near residences. Bob told me that his part consisted of him on camera talking about the issue for about 15 seconds, but part of the time was taken up by a train passing in the background. He said a friend of his called him later in the evening after the broadcast and told him he looked good on TV, and asked if he was wearing a new tie.

David Howard, the author of “Galaxy Quest,” a 1999 movie starring Tim Allen, fancied life forms in another galaxy where beings lived in a world that they built based on the concepts they observed in a television series that was something akin to the series “Star Trek.” The beings who patterned their lives on the “historical documents” — what they called the episodes of the TV series — had no concept that the fictional world depicted in the television series wasn’t real.

The point here is that there is a great difference between print and broadcast journalism. There’s no question that television has an incredible impact. I still have people tell me they saw me on TV although it’s been years since I appeared on television. Most of the time when someone asks me about an article I wrote in the past, I usually talk about the context of how I came to write the story and I don’t say much about what I wrote about. I always hope that the writing stands on its own merit.

Abraham Lincoln’s reading books by the fireplace light in his log cabin paints a romantic image, but even now, a person can learn a lot by investing some time in reading the words from the printed page of a newspaper, magazine or book. I know from experience that a lot of effort went into each word.

Bill Archer is senior editor of the Daily Telegraph. Contact him at barcher@bdtonline.com.

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