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.