Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

September 22, 2013

Daily checks bring many possibilities for young journalist in training


Bluefield Daily Telegraph

— — It’s a rainy, drizzly weekday morning. But my mood is lightened after a short chat with Deanna and Melinda at the Princeton State Police Detachment. My call is routine — a check to see if anything exciting has happened overnight or in the early morning hours. But there are no stories here. All is quiet.

A few minutes later, I am speaking to another DeAnna — this one at the Mercer County Sheriff’s Department. Once again, I hang up the phone smiling. My morning police checks tend to include a few minutes of “girl chat” with dispatchers and secretaries. I spend the next 15 minutes calling other law enforcement and 911 centers across the two Virginias. The tone of the day seems to be “nothing is happening.” Good news for law enforcement, but not so great for our A-1 lineup.

As editor of the Daily Telegraph, I don’t do police checks as frequently as I did as a young reporter. Much of my time now is spent handling the plethora of paperwork that is piled on my desk daily. Payroll, mileage, month-end expenses — it’s a field day for bookkeepers, but not quite so exciting for journalists who drool over front-page exclusives.

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On another rainy morning, police checks serve a dual purpose. As I call dispatchers in hopes of a potential story, I am also training new reporter Anne Elgin on how to conduct this daily routine.

Today, in terms of stories, we’re in luck. A string of vehicle break-ins are being investigated by the state police, and something is buzzing at the sheriff’s department. It’s a good day to be a journalist — and a journalist in training.

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Working with Anne reminds me of my initial foray into this profession some 20 years ago. I had a strong background in writing, but no experience as a reporter. Then Daily Telegraph Editor the late Tom Colley took a chance on me. He gave me a job and a chance to prove myself.

In those first few weeks and months I had help. I was greener than green, but the Telegraph’s news gathering team took pity and gave me plenty of tips on interviewing, reporting and writing.

My first beat became the joke of the newsroom — dead dogs and trash. It wasn’t intentional. At the time, the newsroom newbie took on the odd assignments and we just happened to have a rash of dog killings and illegal garbage dumps. Despite the teasing, I was proud of the way I covered my beat.

Another one of my first stories involved a sludge pond in the front yard of a Buchanan County, Va., resident’s home. The woman was understandably upset about the dangers it posed, but she had no luck when discussing her problem with coal company officials.

The day before I embarked on this story my older brother, Ed, and I had another mission. I was still living at home with my parents and reaping the benefits of a no-rent, no-utilities lifestyle. We went new car shopping and, at the end of the day, I drove a spunky red sports car out of the showroom.

The next day my new car was in Buchanan County, covered in muck from headlights to rear bumper. I got the story, but my sporty ride no longer looked new. I will never forget the drive back to Bluefield — after dark in the pouring rain, and stopping every 10 minutes or so to wipe the grime from the headlights. It was a wake-up call to life as a journalist.

But the important part of this story: The coal company cleaned up the sludge pond and fixed the problem within days of the article’s publication.

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New reporter Anne has come into our newsroom to replace former staffer Kate Coil — or, as I sometimes called her, “Katydid.”

Katy came to the Daily Telegraph three years ago fresh out of journalism school in Tennessee. She was a workhorse who thrived on the new experiences gained in West Virginia. For old-timers at the newspaper, Katy was the proverbial breath of fresh air. Stories that were old-hat to us were exciting to her.

After three years at the Telegraph, Katy found a job closer to home in Tennessee. We were sad to see her go, but understood the motivation that led her back to family.

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Anne is also a transplant to the Mountain State, coming to the hills of West Virginia from our neighboring Commonwealth of Virginia. We believe this is but one of many reasons that make her a good fit at the Daily Telegraph.

On her second day on the job, Anne landed two stories — one of which was front page — during her police-checks training. Pretty good for a newbie. Even better, they did not relate to dead dogs or trash.

At the moment, I have no plans to send her to cover any sludge pond issues in rural regions of our coverage area. But who knows what tomorrow will bring.

Life as a journalist can be exciting, with new challenges daily. And morning police checks can bring a world of potential stories.

Samantha Perry is editor of the Daily Telegraph. Contact her at sperry@bdtonline.com. Follow her at BDTPerry.