A Rough Couple Of Weeks For Journalism

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Some things are like a sock in the gut.   They nail you right where you live and then won’t let you go.  That’s how I felt when I read about Rick Orlov’s death at the age of 66.  “Too young” I thought,   my feelings not unaffected by the fact that I’m that same age, and Orlov and I were golfing buddies who had commiserated on dozens of stories over the span of more than two decades of covering news in Los Angeles.

And then suddenly, he was dead.    One of the best reporters out there.   One of the nicest guys, too.

Just as I was getting past Rick’s death, news broke that Bob Simon had been killed in a car crash in Manhattan.  Another one.  Another highly respected journalist.  I didn’t know Simon, but I admired his work.  Another of the best reporters out there, another “old school” broadcast journalist, gone.  Just like that.  And then I read the news about Stan Chambers, and got a message from KTLA asking if I could come in to the station and make a statement about his death.

Events were stumbling forward, crashing into one another with total disregard for my ability to keep pace.

I went in, they turned on the camera and I tried, but my heart was in my throat.   I thought about the more than 20 years working side by side with Stan from the San Francisco earthquake to the Rodney King beating, the LA riots to the Simpson trial and the words, which seemed so terribly inadequate anyway, would not come out.

Stan, you see, was another “old-schooler.”   Another reporter who believed it was our job to give our audience the facts of a story  and to then let them sort it out for themselves.   You were expected to leave your opinions and bias at home.   Personal opinion had no place in the world of journalism.   It was a credo Stan adhered to.  I know he did, because I watched him work, year after year.  And year after year, I watched him keep his personal beliefs away from his reporting.   Over the years at least one city official had opined that “You really have no idea how Stan Chambers feels about anything.”

I think perhaps if Stan’s death was all there was, I would have been better able to deal with it.  But there was Rick Orlov of the LA Daily News, and Bob Simon and then David Carr of the New York Times and Brian Williams bizarre departure from NBC and Jon Stewart announcing his planned departure from the “Daily Show,” and just a few months ago we buried photographer Steve Chacon from ABC and months before that my old friend and photographer Artie Williams, also from ABC.   Chacon,  went out of his way to show me the local ropes when I arrived in Los Angeles in 82.   Artie and I went all the way back to WMAR in Baltimore, in 1979.

And now Stan.    The nicest guy in tv news.   Larry and Hal, were supposed to be here to talk about this.

And so,  when Lu Parker came over to say hello at KTLA, I was unable to speak.   The words simply were not there.    After choking up on camera, I went home and wrote the poem that follows on this blog.

The beauty of poetry, something I’ve gotten into only recently,  is that it gives you the ability to say more using fewer words.   And you don’t have to open your mouth.  It’ll have to do for now.   There’s just too much happening and it’s going to take some time to sort it all out.   It’s been a rough couple of weeks.

5 thoughts on “A Rough Couple Of Weeks For Journalism”

  1. Nice piece, Ron. We’re losing the giants. I grew up watching Stan. Never dreamed as a kid I’d one day come to know him, and know him as a colleague. And you’re right, Stan’s death on top of a terrible week for our business….tough to take.

  2. The first time I met Stan Chambers was in July 1987, at the Democratic National Convention in Atlanta. Then I saw him a couple more times in August ’87, at the Republican National Convention in New Orleans. I was a freshly-arrived Washington correspondent for the Tribune chain of TV stations, and Stan was already a living legend. Everybody knew who he was — not just the LA contingents.

    And everybody respected Stan Chambers — mostly, I believe, because he embodied fairness and lack of bias. This was years before the Rodney King beating by LAPD officers — and the explosive tape given — of course — to Stan, who told it like it was, letting the facts and pictures speak for themselves.

    That’s why the police had the same respect for Stan as just about everybody else in LA. Years later, when I got to Los Angeles and started working at KCOP TV, I saw the perfect example of that kind of respect. At a crime scene that had happened overnight, I had come in on the day shift, and was sent out to pick up the story. A cluster of reporters was waiting at the “tape” — the police line — for the PIO to come over and talk.

    What the reporter group didn’t seem to notice was that a couple cops were already quietly briefing Stan, who was off in the background by himself. He was writing in his notebook, nodding and smiling, as they whispered to him. It spoke volumes to me about the level of trust Stan had with everybody, especially the cops, who are often rightfully suspicious of media bias against police.

    The cops knew that if they gave the facts to Stan Chambers, they’d at least get a fair shake from KTLA. A couple years later, News Director Jeff Wald gave me a shot at KTLA, in my opinion the best TV station in America. Stan Chambers was the cornerstone of KTLA reporting, and it was a high point in my reporting career and an honor to work alongside him.

  3. One thing is for sure Ron, we cherished the relationships and time that we had with our departed colleagues. What a blessing.

    I can totally relate to your “verbal” loss for words when asked to reminisce on Stan’s career.

    The same thing happened to me at Artie’s funeral. Inside of me, I felt compelled to share some of the innumerable, wonderful times with my big brother. However, I couldn’t get out of my seat.

    It wasn’t about being shy, or afraid, or anything like that. The fact is, I was in shock, and overwhelmed by the reality that my big brother who took great care of me for 33 years was gone…

    That was one of the toughest times of my life. And to be very frank, I still struggle from time, to time with the fact that he is not here.

    So, I completely understand your becoming speechless regarding Stan. It’s probably just very hard for you to fathom right now, and that’s okay.

    You and I are the only ones from the “Baltimore Mafia” still residing in LA, and I’m so grateful that you are still here, my friend…

    BTW, I turned 57 today. That may be due in part to your inspiring me to stop smoking. It’s been a little over a year and a half since I quit, and I don’t miss smoking at all. Thank you!

  4. Michael, your comments on the passing of Artie remind me of working alongside of both you and Ron. I didn’t really get to know Artie, other than recognize his face out on the streets. But you are so right, Michael, that when someone close to us passes on, we are drawn back to key moments with that person, moments that live on in us, as we appreciate what that friendship has meant to us over the course of our lives.

    And yes, those moments we remember are the blessings we can enjoy again and again, re-living the experiences that changed us for the better.

    Ron and Michael, you write about not finding the words. Just a month ago, I lost a very close cousin, only nine months older than me, a fellow-traveler since we were babies. I was grateful to spend a few last moments with him, when he was lucid, right up to a couple days before he passed over.

    And the words about how we lived through each-other come easier at this writing pace, than in speaking. Yes, we reflect many times on a close soul who has left this world, but lives on in our hearts.

  5. Nice tribute to your fellow journalists, Ron. I’m sorry for your loss. I know the feeling of losing someone with whom you’ve been in the “trenches.” It is tough.

    Bob

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