Saturday, April 12, 2008

Boston to Bagdad

In college, I had the good fortune of getting an internship at WBUR--Boston's NPR station. I wasn't a public radio listener before this job. In fact, I couldn't remember the name of the station when I told one of my campus newspaper colleagues about my interview.

During the interview, Bob Oakes, who was the news director at that time, asked me what I knew about WBUR. Because I had two jobs, an assistant news editor position at the college newspaper, a full class load, and apparently I was missing a clue, I didn't do any research. So, there were two possible responses to Bob's question: 1. Lie badly or 2. Tell the truth. I chose the latter and told him that I knew almost nothing but that my friends were very impressed with the fact that I had an interview. Apparently, it was the right answer. Bob told me that his background was in commercial broadcasting and he knew very little before he came to WBUR. Score one for the truth!

I remember he pointed to a pile of resumes that was about 6 inches tall and he asked me why he should hire me. I've often thought my theatre background has not been a waste when I'm in job interview situations. In a tone that conveyed confidence I didn't have, I told him that my maturity, creativity, writing skills, and ability to learn quickly would make me a great asset (or something to that affect.)

Well, apparently it worked. I got the gig and ended up keeping the internship for two semesters and then moved on to paid work at the station. Interns at WBUR are basically junior reporters. We were sent to cover State House hearings, attend rallies and ribbon cuttings, and basically do all the interviews and reporting for news events that either didn't rate coverage by a regular reporter or when they were too busy. Most of the time, I took the train to some event, recorded sound, came back to the station, logged the tape, physically cut the tape (this was the old days), and wrote a lead in and out for the sound byte. It was called a cut and script.

I don't recall all the details of my first day but I know that the very nice Morning Edition newscaster Lisa Mullins, asked me my name (she thanked all the interns on the air), and that the producer, J.J. Sutherland, was gathering sound for the local All Things Considered newscast. He sent me to cover some story and to come back and write a cut and script. I did what I was asked and about 3 hours later, I proudly handed him 2 1/2 pages of copy. He smiled and kindly explained that the entire local newscast wasn't that long. Thankfully, J.J. was a great editor and taught me a lot about writing quickly, clearly, and concisely.

So, why this trip down memory lane? Lately, I've heard several reports about the Iraq war from the NPR reporter on the scene in Bagdad. You guessed it: J.J. Sutherland.

Sometimes, I wonder what would have happened if I stayed in news. I left because I was tired of getting up at 2:55 in the morning and I wanted silly things like a living wage and health insurance. I'm glad I have those things today and I'm glad I'm not in a war zone, but...

I sometimes wish I could get the rush back that I felt when I had to run into the studio with a headline or when a major news event happened in Boston and I got to file a story on NPR. (I was personally horrified when John Salvi shot up the Planned Parenthood clinics to protest a women's right to choose, but it was one of the most exciting days I ever had at work.) Maybe it's time to book another sky-diving adventure or take up competitive barefoot waterskiing.

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