Wednesday, November 28

The "Scoop Newsworthy" Story

That wasn't his name, of course: it was his nickname. I guess I could use his real name here. He's been dead for many years, died young in fact. But what the heck, why ID him now? And behind his back he was called "Scoop Newsworthy" as a sort of running gag, a commentary on the fact that he was an "absent-minded professor" type.

How absent minded?

One day he was out on a story when we got word back at the station (WOOD AM-FM-TV in Grand Rapids) that he had been rushed to the hospital. No information available.

Not much later photographer Larry Robison came into the newsroom, walked up to my desk, and with an honest-to-God tear in his eye and a catch in his voice said, "I lost my reporter."

"Scoop" and Larry had been sent to cover a desperate search for a handful of missing kids. The youngsters had apparently been seen entering an open sewer grating downtown. There were miles of sewer tunnels under Grand Rapids, and hundreds of ways to get yourself killed if you didn't know what you were doing.

Police and firefighters picked strategic locations around town, pried off manhole covers, donned gas masks (sewer gas can be deadly) and started a methodical search.

Our two-man crew caught up with the Fire Chief at the command center set up at one of the key search locations. Our reporter stepped over, past, around and through a series of yellow cones to talk to the headman: "Chief, I'm..."

And Scoop Newsworthy fell 35 feet down an open manhole. Now the search turned into a rescue operation as firefighters worked out a rope-and-pully system to drag Scoop up and out strapped to a stretcher. If memory serves he wound up with something like 60 stitches on the fleshy inner part of one thigh, caught on a hunk of protruding metal on the way down. Way, way down, I guess.

Robison was mortified. He felt that knowing Scoop's dazed and confused nature he should have been watching out for him more. Something along the lines of not letting your five-year-old play in traffic.

I don't really mean to make fun of Scoop. There are plenty of people who live successfully in their own little Walter Mitty worlds. Not many work in television news (OK, maybe an anchor or two, but not many in the field). Scoop wasn't a bad guy, and not stupid, just sometimes oblivious to the real world.

I guess this is a "ya hadda be there" story. Ya hadda be there to see the shame on Larry Robison's face as he told the story--and to hear the little in spite-of-himself giggle that followed.

And the missing kids were found unharmed.