J500 Media and the Environment

Was Saving a Saddle Wrong? by hollyee

Coming of age in the 1980s, I knew journalists had power. I watched them topple a president. And I wanted to be one. I landed a “real” job—a general assignment reporter in rural Western Kansas.

One of my first assignments was the theft of a teen’s rodeo gear. It was a 45-minute drive through Kansas wheat fields to where the Earth starts to curve just to get to the teen’s family farm. The teen and his best buddy greeted me. Even though they were barely past 17, they had already been up since sunup helping the family make ends meet.  His rugged, sunkissed face broke into shy pride when he showed off his horse and gear. What was missing was what hurt the most. He needed a certain saddle and ropes to ride the circuit, and someone had taken them out of his pickup.

The story I was supposed to write was a routine theft report. But I decided to become his advocate.  The story was about the dreams of a teen boy holding onto hope in the midst of the farm crisis. Two days later, his gear was mysteriously returned.

I had moved from hard journalist to journalist advocate. Traditional journalism say just the facts. “New journalism” gives room for a journalist voice to help tell the story. I think my story was stronger with my voice. But I wonder if I fell victim to becoming attached to what you report. What do you think? Would the story have been better and fairer if just the facts had been reported? Although I don’t compare myself to Jason Whitlock, I think his column on Todd McNair is another example of advocacy.
–Holly E.


4 Comments so far
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what a wonderful and touching story. Thank you for sharing. When I first left my mother’s home to go to college, I moved into “the City.” I grew up on a small farm, 8 miles from a small town. I moved to our state’s capital (also not nearly as big as KC, or even as big as Topeka or Wichita, but huge in my eyes). I moved in to a small apt and put my 15 speed transportation in the fenced back yard. When I finished unpacking, I wanted to go for a ride. My bike was still chained, but the tool pouch my mother hand made with a COOL circa 1970’s rainbow applique on it, was gone; stolen.
Yes, it was a small thing, but it was the very first thing ever stolen from me. I had picked out the rainbow, kind of my youthful hippy-fashion emblem. She had also put my nick-name on it to personalize it even more. Who else goes by Dino????

I was crushed and wanted to leave. I felt violated.

I could have used someone like you. No, it is not a saddle and not a life style tool, but I would have appreciated any friendly face and support.

Thank you for helping this young man. I wonder how many other ‘good life’ stories are out there. I would love to find a bunch of these heart warming journalism stories, put them in a short journal sized book and leave them around for the cynics to read; there are good people everywhere, and good in most people. But there are those that just seem to have that chip on their shoulder, that think the world is theirs and everyone else needs to get out of the way.

Do you think we could affect the actions of others through our own action? Are these self-centered individuals reachable (like the person that stole the saddle to begin with)?

thanks for your post, I enjoyed reading it

Comment by angelajon

Thanks for your comment. Coming from Los Angeles, I was accustomed to theft as a way of life. The guy I met in Garden City had the same violated thoughts you expressed. I think one of the great things about advocacy journalism is that it gives people an opportunity to share facts and find common ground. I do believe we can influence people for the good, but we have to talk about what we believe in and be open to other viewpoints.
Holly E

Comment by hollyee

Hi, Holly!

You totally wrote the right the story. You had the insight to see what the real story was, not just the incident that led up to it.

Your choice couldn’t have been better of fairer and I’m guessing there was a wisp of hope in your mind that somehow the young man’s dreams would be restored if the right person saw that piece.

Sound like you’ve got good instincts for adjusting the focus of a story as the facts unfold. Maybe every story just needs to be individually evaluated as to whether there is enough reason to advocate, and reporters should feel as empowered as you were, to make that call.

Great story.


Comment by carrieshoptaw

Thanks!! I studied the history of journalism as an undergrad (as I think several others did as well), and it is facinating to see how we have evolved from the exaggerated musings of Mark Twain to the ethics of a Carl Bernstein. As long as reporters and bloggers are clear about their presentation, I agree it is good to encourage dialogue.
Holly E

Comment by hollyee

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