Thursday, May 14, 2009


I work for the news. I'm a reporter. But I'm not a gatekeeper. My professor Dr. Terrell (great man) once told me that. "You are not the gatekeeper, and you will quickly discover that when you get a job in television news." What is a gatekeeper I asked myself. I didn't know what he was talking about at the time, dismissing his knowledge as a former journalist who had turned bitter about the business. Now I realize he isn't bitter. Not at all. Just a professor trying to do his job: educating the future journalists of America.

When I landed my first job in Yuma, Arizona I didn't think about gatekeepers (who are these people he's talking about!?) and the subject didn't enter my consciousness until more than a year into my job when I was covering the border beat. Yuma is positioned right along the border with Mexico. That means a lot of drug smuggling and illegal immigration. The obvious stories, right? Another obvious story was when several Senators stopped by to take a tour along the Arizona/Mexico border. This was at a time when the National Guard was literally building a wall along the border.

So it was yet another trip from elected officials. They wanted to see the progress the National Guard had been making. They were also there with U.S. Border Patrol Agents, talking to them about their progress as well. Great, I thought. A pretty PR story for the U.S. Border Patrol. The agency, you may agree serves an important role in our country. Nobody will deny that. Some however, will argue that the agency is flawed.

The border patrol visit was at a time when border violence was increasing, and I got the sense as many of these stories as I was covering that this would be the same as the rest. SAMPLE SCRIPT: "SENATORS VISIT THE BORDER AND SAY THE BORDER PATROL IS DOING A GREAT JOB." That was the obvious, until we approached a section of the border that was borderless. No fencing, no barbed wire. Something the Yuma Minuteman thought was unfathomable. To balance the story (and I'm sure I'm not the first reporter to do it), I did a walk and talk about the porous border. It was unsecured, and I showcased just how easy it was to cross from Mexico and into the U.S. Three steps. That's all it took. This was post 9/11. Unsecured borders? Didn't this pose a significant terrorist threat? The U.S. Border Patrol and Senators had already left by this time. Their tour lasted ten minutes (and yes I put that in my story too). Why? Because it was clear that they were there to show the American people that Congress was taking action. I couldn't keep track of how many of these stories I was turning.

My approach for this story was making sure everyone at home saw the big picture. Yes, the B.P. is patrolling and yes, the N.G. is building a wall but was enough being done?

I should note, I was a young, newbie in the business and it was my first lesson about gatekeepers. The story aired that evening on the 10 o'clock news which I anchored at the time. The next day I came in, and my managing editor yelled at me as soon as I walked in the door, "how could you do that stand-up!? The Border Patrol is threatening to arrest you for crossing the border illegally." Is that a JOKE I asked. Arrest me for taking three steps!? Wow, I thought to myself. Is this because I broke a law (which I was innocenetly unaware of, and still to this day doubt I did anything terribly unlawful seeing that we were authorized to be in the area) or was it because it didn't make the U.S. Border Patrol look "good" as an agency? I told my managing editor to tell them to come and arrest me. Don't threaten me, do it. Clearly it was a scare tactic. They were not happy, and managers agreed that I should lay off my border reports for a few weeks. I was outraged. They assured me it was just for a couple weeks. I reluctantly agreed. Weeks went by and when the opportunity came up to do another story with the B.P., I volunteered. The B.P. was releasing its monthly numbers; a statistical view of how well they were doing. I asked if it was just another photo op. for them as an agency among other important questions. Seemed fair to me. My job is protected by the U.S. Constitution. I can ask WHATEVER QUESTION I WANT. That's what I thought anyway. I reported the story, along with the numbers. There was nothing controversial about it but the next day the axe fell on me again. Not because of what aired, but because of what I asked at the press conference. My News Director at the time told me the higher ups at the Yuma Sector of the B.P. clearly weren't thrilled that I was there to cover the story. They called to complain yet again.

Sadly, it was the last border story I covered. I had reported dozens over the years in Arizona. Most were about drug smuggling, illegal immigration and ride alongs showcasing what border agents do when they patrol the border. Other stories focused on the illegals that crossed and why they came.

Years later, I still look back and it's mind boggling that I was pulled from covering the border beat. I now realize that it's the lesson Dr. Terrell taught me in college. Gatekeepers. The world is full of them. Just didn't know they existed in journalism.

P.S. If there's any doubt that terrorists could use ports of entry and our porous borders to infiltrate, take a look at this link:

It's a recent risk analysis report from Standford University that outlines the dangers of current border conditions. If you don't want to read through it, its conclusion is that the statistical data shows the odds of a terrorist entering the U.S. through our borders are rather high.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Orange Sticks & Soy Milk

It's Tuesday afternoon. I'm sitting on the couch, eating orange sticks and washing them down with soy milk. Nothing is better than enjoying Oprah and satisfying my sweet tooth, although I'll regret it hours from now when I'm on the treadmill. Sometimes I think having the desire to be thin is overrated. Key word is sometimes. Most of the time, I fantasize about nothing more than having a taught belly. Anyway, Dr. Oz is on Oprah talking about poop. He says everyone looks at their feces whether they want to admit it or not. Okay, all of sudden my chocolate filled orange sticks don't look or taste so appealing anymore.

Anyway, the real reason I'm blogging? I'm wondering what's more important to people.
1. Talk about the U.S. recession and it's significant impact on two benefits programs (Medicare & Social Security)
2. The "Jon & Kate Plus Eight" scandalous alleged affair

Is it one or the other? Do people have to choose? Or is there room for both in the world of television news? My only fear in today's world is that people are more focused on gossip, rumor and speculation than on real issues. And perhaps that's because we want to escape. Escapism vs. Reality. Who would pick the latter, when the first choice provides a world focused on issues other than their own?

Okay, no longer watching Oprah. And no longer analyzing this topic. Just wanted to share a thought that will seem minor when I blog tomorrow.
----I was just temporarily interrupted by a news promo. MISS CALIFORNIA embroiled in scandal. Should she lose her crown? (put hand over your mouth and gasp in shock)
Since I'm all over the place today, I wonder what the future of the GOP will be in this country...hmmm.

And with that I say GOOD NIGHT AND GOOD LUCK.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Mainstream Media

I had an interesting conversation with 20/30 somethings this weekend. I was invited to a BBQ in Sugarhouse. Didn't know anyone except for the friend that invited me, whom I only met once before. So as you can guess, I didn't know what to expect. Sometimes it turns out to be the most fun you've had in a while.

It was a small barbeque. By the time I got there, there was only one hamburger pattie left...stale, cold and lifeless on the plate. It looked so lonely, but I wasn't about to eat it. One of my friend's roomates was kind enough to throw a fresh pattie on the grill. In the meantime, I poured myself a drink. Bacardi and Coke. Not my usual drink of choice, but it did the deed. I sat on the couch next to a couple...everyone else was seated in wooden chairs scattered through the room. It was an interesting mix of people, one in particular who had lived in Atlanta. He was talking about the SWINE FLU. Yes, you know...the virus that nearly scared the pants off everyone. He loudly voiced his opinion: "The MEDIA just decided to freak everyone out." I can't quote everything he said, not word for word anyway but there was a lot of finger pointing. The media was responsible for spreading fear. I chimed in after he said the media blew up the story for ratings purposes...that people were sick of talking about the economy, so the news decided to give Americans something else to worry about. So I asked him, "you think the media tries to spread fear and panic on purpose?" In short, most likely he said. He did an internship at CNN in Atlanta and knows it for a fact. It was his perspective. And I'll be the last person to defend some of our actions as an industry, but journalists don't sit around in meetings discussing what stories we should cover to instill fear. I said journalists. I can't speak for anyone else that works in news. ie: producers, managers, corporate bosses etc. Anyway, what mattered most about the conversation was realizing what my generation thinks about mainstream media. He wasn't the first to display such distrust. And while I haven't conducted a scientific poll on how many people part of generation x, y (is there a z yet?) think of television news, I feel comfortable enough to say that we don't tickle their taste budds anymore. I wasn't part of news 30 years ago, so I have not witnessed the change (although some would arguably call it the downfall) in journalism. What I'm wondering is what is it that this new generation expects from us as journalists? Is it what Edward R. Murrow envisioned? Separating facts from sensationalism? T.V. news does what it does today because it works, because just like any other industry it has become a corporation that is profitable thanks to advertisers and while advertising should not be part of journalism's equation...this BBQ guy thought it is evident that it is. Undeniable he said. Hmmmm...perhaps he's right, but not on my clock.

After a ten minute, slightly heated but healthy discussion about mainstream media...I left. No one at the party watches the news. Someone asked, "are you a reporter or something?" I didn't answer. That didn't matter; what mattered was leaving with what I suspected all along. People have lost faith in us. What I want to know is what can we do to restore that faith? AND, most importantly is it worth it? Or will we be drowned out by the head honchos? Anyway, just a thoughtful blog. Take it with a grain of salt. My opinion of my job as a journalist changes on a daily basis.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Kiplyn Davis: where is she?

I think this is one of those stories that should be featured nationally, either on dateline or 60 minutes. It's that mind boggling. A 15 year-old disappears without a trace...literally. Kiplyn Davis was last seen in 1995. Her family believes she was murdered. So did the state, so they decided to try to prosecute two men, Christopher Neal Jeppson and Timmy Brent Olsen who they said admitted to friends at a party that they did it. The defense said not the case; they were joking and intoxicated at the time. They were indicted federally for lying to investigators in 2005. Years later in 2007, the state went after the two for murder charges. How do you prosecute someone without Corpus Delicti? That's what everyone wondered. Prosecutors knew they had a tough case. The defense demanded the murder charges be dropped even though a trial date had already been set. The judge in the case asked the prosecution to find a case as unique as this one. Without a body, a crime scene, forensic evidence or murder can you prove a murder took place? The family of Kiplyn certainly deserves justice, but putting two potentially innocent men behind bars would be an injustice. So many rumors have been swirling over the years. Some think these guys did it. Some say based on the lack of evidence, no way.

Well, yesterday a plea deal was reached for Christopher Neal Jeppson. Clearly the prosecution knew they had no case. Jeppson pleaded no contest to obstruction of justice and was sentenced 0 to 5 years in prison. He's already serving a five year sentence federally. The two sentences will be served at the same time. The plea deal means Jeppson can never be charged in connection with this case EVER AGAIN. Kiplyn's family is devestated. All they want to know is: "What happened to my daughter and where is she?" They said they wouldn't rest, even if it took forever. Now they're realizing they have to move on, find closure.

The question now is: what happens with Timmy Brent Olsen? He's been charged with murder, but his defense has appealed and his case is now pending. Will prosecutors offer him the same plea deal?

These men say they are innocenet, had nothing to do with her disappearance. That aside, think about the family's realization: they may NEVER know what happened to their daughter. It'll always be speculative.

Someone out there knows something...