Every Story is the Same….Really?

I have reported hundreds, maybe thousands, of stories during my career and there is one thing that is the same about all of them. Each one has a universal theme. If you find that universal theme or themes in your stories you can make them more relatable and understandable for the viewer.

I know you need examples, but first let me tell you a story. It’s about a woman who was hoping to see the man she loved, but my attempt to get an exclusive story got in the way.

I covered the John Delorean drug case and a man named Morgan Hetrick was part of it. Hetrick was accused of conspiring with Delorean to import and distribute 220 pounds of cocaine. Hetrick agreed to cooperate with the Feds and got 10 years in prison in Fort Worth, Texas. So, there he sat behind bars and I wanted to talk with him.

I contacted his wife Joyce who was living in Fort Worth. She said Morgan was given the opportunity, occasionally, to be released for a few hours so she could see him. I begged her to let me talk with him during one of those windows of opportunity and she reluctantly agreed. She said if the prison found out, they might cancel the outside visits in the future. I was worried. I was feeling uneasy. Joyce told me she lived for the few hours he was free and they could just take a walk and catch up. I didn’t want to screw this up for them, after all they were cooperating with me and the prosecutors.

I landed in Fort Worth with a photographer and we headed to the prison. We had two hours to wait before he would be released, so we decided to get a few shots of the facility and shoot a stand up or two. When we approached one of the gates and took out our gear, a guard came and asked what we were doing? I just said we were doing a story about an inmate who was involved in the Delorean case. I did not mention Hetrick’s name. He said OK and left.

When it was almost time for Hetrick to leave the prison for his visit with Joyce and our interview, I met her at a Wendy’s just across from the main gate. When I walked up to Joyce she was crying. “What’s wrong?”, I said. She screamed at me, “it’s cancelled”. The tears ran down her cheeks, destroying her makeup. “They told him if a TV crew was going to talk with him, they would not release him to me. What did you tell them?” she demanded. My heart sunk. I hadn’t told them anything. I didn’t use Hetrick’s name. I just said we were doing a story about the Delorean case. Obviously, the prison officials put the pieces together.
I felt horrible. We were going to miss the story and I had, inadvertently, destroyed the arrangement between husband and wife so they could spend time together. The prison, from that moment on, refused to let him have his time away from the institution. I apologized to Joyce and we headed back to the airport. It was a day filled with emotion.

So, what are the universal themes here? Anticipation. Betrayal. Disappointment. Anger. My story had them all. Find these themes and others in your stories. Yes, even a story about a city council decision has universal themes or emotions. Identify them early. Your initial research should give you a hint, but keep your eyes and ears open for them. Every story has them. They all have universal themes that will help you navigate the job of telling the story. Sometimes they change. When a school board votes to close a school or fire a teacher, the mood in the room may change quickly. The theme of your story could be anger or disappointment or it could explode into jubilation! It’s those universal themes that will make your story memorable. Listen for them with your head and your heart and share them with the viewer.

When Your Fingers Betray You

When you put your fingers on your computer keyboard and start typing, your mind does something that will affect the quality of the story you are working on?

Why is it that you can talk with the executive producer and the show producer and tell them about your story, emphasizing all the great sound you have and the unusual twist when you conducted a particular interview and the great video you have, but when you sit down to “write” the piece your mind freezes?

When you start writing, your mind switches from a conversation mode to a reading mode. Your first sentence of the package is right there on your computer screen. You “read” it and not “say” it. You are writing for the eye and not the ear. It’s a trap.
When we talk, we speak in short phrases and hardly ever in complete sentences. We naturally “tease” our listeners when we begin a story or introduce a new twist in an ongoing story. But, when we start writing for the “eye”, we stumble back into using long, complex sentences to try to explain complex ideas. It is hard to record those sentences. They are not pleasant for the ear. They will kill your stories.

Don’t let the keyboard do this to you!

One of the best bits of advice I received from a boss was something he yelled to me across the room. I was sitting at my desk with a deadline approaching and I was frozen with my fingers on the keyboard. WTHR News Director Bill Dean shouted, “Becker get going or you are going to miss your deadline!” I yelled back that I was struggling with lots of information. It was a complicated story about politics and money. He said, “Don’t confuse me with the facts, just tell me the story!” I put down my notebook. Took my fingers off the keyboard and he said, “what’s this story about”? So, I told him. It was brilliant. He said, “now write that down and get in the audio booth”. It needed some polishing, but a complicated story about money and politics was really about the people fighting about it and the neighborhood that would be affected depending on who won. Sure, I included some of the important facts, but it was a “story” and not a “report”.

Don’t let your fingers on that keyboard prevent you from “telling” a good story. Say it out loud if you must, but “say” it don’t write it. Have a conversation with your viewers. Tell them a good story, a true story and an accurate story. But don’t confuse them with the facts.

Basic Reporting Tips and Guidelines

From TvNewsmentor.com Ross Becker

1. WRITE THE LEAD FIRST. This is where the story begins. Use short sentences to draw the viewer into the story. It is a headline with a transition to the beginning of the video. If you are starting with a sound bite or natural sound, use the lead to “write into” or introduce that sound.

2. Begin the story with your strongest video or sound. AGAIN…if you use sound, use the lead to set it up. Example: if you start with sound of a city council member saying “I wanted to fight this because it’s important” then your lead should say “Jim Reporter found a member of the city council who says he had no choice but to act”

3. Each package should have a beginning, a middle and an end. The end is the summary and usually refers to the beginning. Take us full circle in your reporting.

4. The beginning sets up the story, the facts, the issue. The middle lays out both sides of an argument or tells the story of someone affected. The end sums up where the issue stands and what might happen next. Again, these are general, basic suggestions. Each story is different and can use different storytelling techniques.

5. These guidelines are simplistic. There are no rules for every package. Each one is a work of art, but there are techniques and tricks that work for all packaging.

6. Writing is critical to the success of your story. Use short sentences. Make the story personal with the words you use. Check your grammar. Make it conversational.

7. Stand ups. These can be tricky. The basic rule is to use a standup to show me something, move me from one place to another or help me visually when you don’t have video for a thought or point.

8. When doing a standup make sure the viewer understands why you are standing where you are standing. For instance, “I am here in front of the courthouse, because it’s here in a courtroom where this drama is unfolding”

9. Use the sound bites you have chosen and recorded as punctuation NOT to deliver information. For instance, you might write a line of track that says “the lawyer for the defendant is worried the jury won’t agree (then the SOT) and he says “I know they have a big job and a lot of testimony to consider”. The sound is the period at the end of that sentence.

10. Most of the time you do NOT want to end your story with a sound bite. After the last sound, use one line to end the story in your own words. It is part of the summary. It’s a good place to refer to the first sound or script. Take the story full circle.

11. If your station requires an anchor tag, plan and save something. One last thought or postscript. Remember this is the last thing the viewer hears about your story. Don’t throw it away.

Why Are We Still Begging Some Reporters to Post “Digital First”?

When I was in grade school, some friends and I started a newspaper in the basement of our home. It was only one page and it included some school news and playground rumors. It was fun for us to write the stories and then use an old mimeograph machine to print 20 or 30 copies and hand them out at recess. I know it sounds lame, but it was our way of trying to be the cool guys who were in on everything. We could not wait to hand out those copies because we were the first to tell them the news. First, is almost always better as long you as have the facts rights.

Now, in the year 2020, we have something called social media. There is no need to print the news and hand it out on the playground. Reporters can report the news even before the reporting is over! Yet, I find some journalists still plodding through the process of gathering, then sitting down and writing and then publishing, whether is on paper, on-line or on-the-air. They have the power in the palm of their hands that we craved when we were writing and printing our basement newspaper. Yet, many don’t use it. Using social media, we can involve the potential reader or viewer in every aspect of the hunt for information. We can invite them to the morning editorial meeting. We can take them along on the ride to our story location and talk with them about the coverage plan. We can be there when we introduce ourselves to the people we are covering or be with us as “first on the scene” of a fire or crash or other breaking news. Why don’t we do it?

We can share with the viewer or reader the challenges we sometimes face trying to get the facts or “real story” and help them understand the frustrations and roadblocks. That would help all of us restore credibility in the profession. We can talk with our social media followers as we work to prepare the story for air or print and show them the decisions that need to be made and the compromises that are always part of journalism. And then, we can use social media to reach them with the final product. I believe they will better understand what we do and how we do it.

So, instead of posting dog pictures or food pictures or vacation pictures, use social media to show your friends and followers your professional side. Show them how difficult it is to do your job. Let them in on the secrets. Your work will become much more powerful.
Be the first in your newsroom to try it. It’s being done in some of the major markets by reporters who have been covering news for decades. Now it’s your turn. I would love to see examples of your efforts.

Why Your Stories Need an Onion Volcano

The challenge of any storyteller is to get people to see and feel and appreciate your story. I believe you need a little fire to do that.

We can debate the numbers, but I have seen various surveys that show about 70% of millennials have a FOMO. It means the “fear of missing out”. Younger news consumers are not just looking to expand their minds, they are looking for experiences. Instead of sitting in a room alone listening to music, they will spend hundreds of dollars and drive hundreds of miles to attend the concert. It’s the experience they want, not necessarily the music. Another example is food. Many would rather invest their time and money going to a trendy restaurant and posting the pictures on social media, than getting satisfaction out of cooking a meal at home.

I am not judging if this is right or wrong. The fact is, it is real and if we are going to inspire, influence or mentor people with the FOMO, we need to get them to experience news not just watch it. This is where the onion volcano comes in.Whe ther you are producing an individual story for TV or digital or you are putting together an hour of news Monday through Friday, you need to ask yourself which parts of the story are going to be remembered. When we go to one of those Japanese grill places, what do we talk about? Sure, we will say the food was good and the chef at the table was funny, but we all remember the fire. Even if we have seen it scores of times, we always wait for and take pictures of the flaming onion volcano. I call it the FOMO moment. We are afraid we are going to miss it. It’s part of the experience.

So, if you want your story to make an impression on younger news viewers, give them a FOMO moment. It’s the one element of the story, whether in writing or video or sound that the viewer will talk about and remember. It could be a sound bite, interview, picture or production technique. It could be your unique standup or maybe it’s an exclusive angle to the story. It is the “experience” of your story or newscast. That is what millennial viewers are craving. Give them a new viewing experience they can share. If you do, they will invest their time with you because, if they don’t, they might be afraid of missing out. Give them a flaming volcano of alcohol and onion along with the great food and drink (your information and facts) and they will watch your stories and newscasts.

How Country Music Can Improve Your Storytelling

Have you seen Ken Burns PBS documentary about country music? It confirms what I have believed for a very long time. If you want to improve your storytelling, listen to country music and feel it. He says it’s the intervals between the notes that tell the story. The same is true for you. The intervals between the copy or the sound bites will give your pieces “soul”.

What we as reporters do on television or radio, internet or over the top is very powerful. If we stay in our “head” and report the facts, we are cheating ourselves and the viewers. If we move our stories to our hearts, we will become powerful influences in the lives of the people who we serve.

Country songs are passionate, personal, emotional and real. We always joke that in country songs we lose the house, the car, the girlfriend, the boyfriend or the job. We lose the will, the loved one or the desire. It’s real life.

When you are assigned a story or you have an idea for a possible story, think about how you would write a country music song about that story. Silly? I don’t think so. That story will move someone or change someone or help someone or convince someone and that is why we celebrate great storytellers. I am not talking about ignoring the facts. I am talking about finding the passion or emotion in each story we do.

So, listen to country music. Listen to the words and the passion. Listen to the hurt or the excitement. Listen to the pain. When you pitch a story at the next morning meeting, tell it like a country song. You will do more than convince the minds of those in charge, you will convince their hearts.

Why you need to develop “emotional range” to become a better storyteller

As reporters we use our senses to immediately begin gathering information for our stories, but sometimes what we see and hear is not the whole story. Our own hearts and our life experiences may help us see more of the story than we have ever seen before. Don’t let the obvious lead you to a story with no emotional range.

So, let’s begin developing your emotional range. Start your own life experience checklist. Remember what it felt like to be dumped by a lover or how you felt when you had that car accident. Go back to the time when you got a big holiday cash bonus or when your child brought home her first handmade Valentine’s card. How did you feel when your first child was born? How did you feel when you had your first kiss? If we are going to be great storytellers, we need to experience life ourselves and then draw on those experiences to make our stories better. So, use the experiences in your own life to begin developing your emotional range. Think of how you felt on your child’s first day at school or when your grandfather died and find words in your stories to help us better understand the story you are covering today.

A news director told me that when he is hiring a new reporter, he looks for a candidate with a developed emotional range. They tell more powerful stories, he said. Life is powerful and it should be jumping off the screen when your piece airs.

Conflict is an essential element of most stories, but conflict only scratches the surface when you are talking about emotional range. Conflict is the catalyst for the universal emotions such as fear, anger, frustration, happiness, and sadness. Can you show the quiet sadness or frustration of a family whose life was changed by a tornado? They are not yelling or crying or even talking. Does your emotional range allow you to recognize that emotional numbness?

In order to begin finding and developing your emotional range in storytelling you must look back. Pull out your stories from the past two weeks and look at them again. Think about how you felt about doing the story and then think about how the people in the story felt. Did you capture those feelings? Did you show the quiet frustration of the city council woman who is trying to do something good for her district? Or, did you just do the obvious and show the argument in the council chambers?

Every story we do affects the viewer emotionally. Even the most mundane city council budget story touches some emotion. Hopefully it is told in such a way that it touches the anger button or victory button, but maybe it’s just the boredom button. Whatever emotion a story elicits, it should be an integral part of our storytelling arsenal. But, does your emotional range even allow you to recognize that “feeling”.

Many seasoned reporters can look past the facts of the story into the hearts of people and understand what makes them act. Young, inexperienced reporters deal with what is in front of them and report it. They have not yet developed their emotional range. Start exercising yours. Think about it before you even make the first contact on a story. Where is this story going to take YOU? Emotionally. It will make you better.

A Prayer and a $20 Bill

(I have been writing stories about some of the stories I have covered so far in my career. Each one taught me something about myself or my profession.)

We can now instantly shoot and send video around the world from our phones. That was not always the case and that made covering news even more of a challenge. You could have the greatest story and the most amazing video, but no one would see it unless you could get it back to the station in time for the newscast. This story is about taking the ultimate risk/reward in order to do your job.
Just over 4 decades ago, in 1977, I was working for WFRV-TV in Green Bay. It was August and that means summer storms in Wisconsin. I had worked all day and was finally home. Dinner was done and we were just watching TV when we saw the tornado warning. It was not to Green Bay yet, but the storm was heading this way.

A short time later the phone rang. The night producer told me to get into the station fast! The boss was sending me and a photographer to Wausau, in Marathon County, where there are reports of a tornado touchdown with significant damage. Wausau is about a 90-minute drive from the station. It was going to be a long night.

I met Chief Photographer Del Vaughn at the station. He already had the car packed and ready. WFRV had just received its’ first videotape news camera. We were going to use it tonight.

Let me outline the tools we had to work with the cover this breaking news. There were no cell phones, just phone booths that took a quarter to make a local call. We had no “live” trucks or microwave connections. We had no computers or wi-fi links to the station. We were heading out into the night to chase the destruction of a tornado with a camera and a pocket full of quarters.
We arrived in the outskirts of Wausau. It was dark. Power was out everywhere, but we didn’t see much damage. We drove to the middle of town and took a right turn and saw the flashing lights on the fire trucks and police cars. The tornado had ripped a patch through a residential neighborhood just west of the city. We got as close as we could, grabbed the gear and headed down the first street. It was the first time I had witnessed the damage from a tornado. It was eerie. We saw a two-by-four turned into a spear that had pierced the side of a metal camper. We also saw a telephone pole turned into a porcupine. When a tornado hits it creates extremely low pressure. That low pressure opens the pores of the telephone poles and the wind blows sticks and straw into the open slots. When the tornado passes, those hole or pores close quickly trapping the debris. The pole looks like it had hair! The power of this storm was amazing. We shot video, did interviews and even told the story of a woman who was found a block from her home still sitting on the mattress from her bedroom. The storm had taken her for a ride. We had great stuff, but no way to get it back to Green Bay. The next newscast was the morning broadcast and we had to stay in Wausau until the sun rose.

We took a break and found a truck stop open near the interstate that runs through town. We were frustrated, we could not get to the station and back in time for the morning news conference, but we wanted our video to get on the air on the morning show in two hours.
There was a truck driver sitting at the next table and I had an idea. I slid into his booth and introduced myself. I asked him where he was heading next. He said, “Green Bay. I am dropping my load at the Proctor and Gamble plant on the east side of town.” The plant was about 5 minutes from the TV station. I took a chance. I grabbed the ¾ inch videotape from the machine and handed it to him. This was our only video and if we lost it we had nothing to show for our long night. I said, “would you drop this at the guard gate when you pull into Proctor and Gamble? I will have someone from my station drive over and pick it up.” He smiled and rolled his eyes, “what’s in it for me?” I laid a $20 bill on the top of the tape and said, “you are going that way anyway, wanna make an easy 20 bucks?” He nodded, grabbed the money and the tape and he was gone. We watched the big rig and our night’s work heading out of the parking lot. Del and I wondered if we would ever see our great video again.

I called the station and told them the plan. If the driver did what he agreed to do, WFRV would be the only station with tornado coverage for the morning news programs. We all crossed our fingers. Del and I went back to work covering the story and about two hours later I called the newsroom to see if our scheme had worked. The driver did exactly what he promised. The videotape was waiting at the guard shack. Our intern picked it up and our stories and video made the morning broadcast. In the end, this storm injured 30 people. Luckily, no one died. Winds were clocked at 150 miles per hour.

We had to cover the story and we found out there is always a way. It was risky trusting a truck driver, but what good is great video if you miss the deadline. For us that night, it was a prayer and a twenty-dollar bill that did the trick.

A Party of Hate and Fire

(I have been writing stories about some of the stories I have covered so far in my career. Each one has taught me something about myself or the profession.)

Fire changes things. It makes food better. It makes dark nights brighter and warmer. It also destroys and frightens. That is what this story is about, the night I was an uninvited guest at a Ku Klux Klan cross- lighting.

In the Los Angeles suburb of Lakeview Terrace, there isn’t much excitement. It’s a neighborhood of blue- collar values, soccer games for the kids after school and usually quiet evenings. It was December 3rd, 1983 and I was working for KCBS-TV. As the investigative reporter for the station, our team was digging into a story that was both dangerous and exciting. I had been approached by a man named Peter Lake. Peter was a freelance journalist with a taste for danger. His previous claim to fame was locking himself in a cage underwater to videotape a killer shark. This next assignment would be more dangerous for him and for us.

Peter had infiltrated a national group of white supremacists. The Aryan Nation group was headquartered in Hayden Lake, Idaho but its tentacles stretched nationwide. It was affiliated with the local Ku Klux Klan chapters including the one in southern California headed by Grand Dragon Tom Metzker. Peter had become the groups videographer and had convinced the members he could be trusted. He was our person “on the inside” while we worked to expose the tactics of this hate group from the outside looking in.I have already written about my face to face encounter with Pastor Richard Butler, the head of the Aryan nation group. He was competing with leaders of the Klan, the Aryan Brotherhood and other smaller hate groups for members and money and attention. (http://tvnewsmentor.com/the-blue-eyed-enemy/) But, on one evening in Lakeview Terrace they all came together to make a statement about their power to terrify.

Peter Lake sent word to me that they would all meet in the backyard of a supporter and light 3 crosses on fire. Cross-lightings have been used for decades to frighten blacks in the south. The crosses would be lit in the front yard of a black family or the supporter of that family. It was meant as a warning. This ceremony in Los Angeles was meant to send a message too, Lake told us. He said they wanted Blacks, Jews and Asians in the area to know they were not welcome. The crosses were scheduled to be doused with gasoline and lit just after sundown. I left the station in Hollywood with photojournalist Eliot Fons. We had worked together many times before, but we didn’t know what to expect tonight. Lake told us that we would have to park several streets away and make our way to the hillside backyard by climbing up a steep slope in the back of the property. If we were seen the ceremony organizers would be angry and he would not be able to protect us. He warned us to be careful.

Eliot and I made it to the property line as the sun was starting to set. We could see several men getting ready to pull ropes and lift the 3 big, wooden crosses into holes dug in the ground. We hid in some thick bushes, trying to remain quiet. We saw them douse the sheet-wrapped hay bundles with gasoline and tie them to the crosses. We also saw our “insider” Peter Lake videotaping it all up close. If they only knew. We stayed hidden in the bushes, just 20 yards from the crosses. When it got dark, the men began coming out of the house and heading to the ceremony location. Some were dressed in leather jackets or t-shirts. We could see their faces. Others were covered head-to-toe with traditional Klan robes and masks. They gathered in a circle around the crosses. I heard the voice of Pastor Butler welcome everyone and thank them for the show of support. It was hard to hear everything from our spot in the bushes, but every few seconds there was cheering and applause. Then several men set the crosses on fire. We could feel the heat. The cheering got louder and louder. We didn’t dare even breathe. Some of the men were assigned as security and they had spread out along the properly line. They had rifles and sidearms. One of them was standing about 15 feet in front of us with his back turned. Eliot had propped his camera next to a log and pointed it at the ceremony. Any movement by us might tip them off.

Then, suddenly, some of the men started running. There were shouts of “police, run for it!” It seems the Los Angeles Police Department had been tipped off about the cross-lighting ceremony, too. Officers were crashing the party and making arrests. We didn’t hesitate. Eliot grabbed his camera and I had the microphone and we jumped out the bushes and began videotaping the chaos and arrests. We had our LAPD press passes around our necks and we managed to stay out of the way for a minute or two, but then we were both grabbed from behind and handcuffed. I tried to plead with the officer and show him my pass, but he didn’t have time to negotiate. He pushed me toward another officer who led me and Eliot to a row of squad cars on the street in front of the house. A sergeant finally came over and we were able to reason with him. He checked our press passes and ordered the handcuffs removed. Then he asked, “what the hell were you guys doing here and how did you know about it?” I said, “same way you did sergeant, someone tipped us off.” He took my business card and warned that the department might want to see our videotape. I warned him back that it would take a subpoena. He was not happy.
Peter Lake was arrested that night, but the video he shot and the video Eliot got hiding in the bushes helped us show the real story of hate that night in southern California.

That was just one of a series of stories we did about the Aryan Nation and the Klan. Peter stayed in the group for another several months, reporting back to us daily and sharing video. I had always read about the life of blacks in the South. To me it was a story in a history book, because I had never lived it. Now I had, albeit in a different way. Now I could appreciate the fear felt by those who are the targets of these hate groups. I will never forget the feeling of the heat on my face as those crosses burned.

Biscuits and Gravy

(I am writing stories about some of the stories I have covered, so far, in my career. Each one taught me something about myself and the profession)

Sometimes it’s not the story that you remember, it’s the food.

In the late 1970’s, I was a young reporter working for WTHR-TV in Indianapolis. It was December of 1977 and the coal miner’s union decided to go on strike. Southern Indiana is full of coal mines and miners, so this became a major local story.

We left the station very early one very cold morning heading for the union coal mine. It was dark when we left and all we had was coffee to keep us awake and warm. WTHR Photojournalist Pat Thatcher was a veteran and I was glad to have him manning the CP-16 film camera. We knew the miners could be a difficult bunch, especially when they were on strike. Many didn’t see the media as their friend. Many were just tough, hard-working coal miners who didn’t like outsiders from Indianapolis invading their neighborhoods.

We made great time and arrived near the mine entrance about an hour before the first scheduled shift change. That is when the first picket lines were supposed to appear and when we could get our first reactions. Pat and I were sitting in the news car with the engine running and the heater going full blast. It was below freezing. He turned to me and said, “I’m hungry, let’s get something to eat”.
He put the car in gear and headed back toward the main road. He said, “I am dying for some hot biscuits and gravy!” I had no idea what he was talking about. I had never heard of biscuits and gravy! I said, “what the hell is that?” Pat looked at me like I was crazy, “you have never had biscuits and gravy?” Nope, I said. Don’t know what they are but I am willing to try anything. Growing up in Wisconsin, we had cheese curds and beer for breakfast sometimes, but never biscuits and gravy. It’s traditionally a southern dish and this was my first time living outside of Wisconsin, so I was learning all kinds of new things. We pulled into the snow-covered parking lot of the café and, with a sly smile, Pat said wait here I will get you some biscuits and gravy.

This coal miners strike was a big deal. It was not just Indiana miners’ this was what they called a “wildcat” strike of miners in several midwestern states. It was clear the union leadership had little control over the men and that made it dangerous. This was life and death for the workers and no one knew how far they would go to make their point.

I saw Pat push the door open and walk toward the car. He was carrying a brown paper bag, like the kind we used to get at the grocery story. He jumped in and set the bag between us. “Let’s get back to the mine road,” he said, then we will dig in. The car filled with the smell of sausage. That’s what it smelled like to me. During the short ride back to the mine, Pat again was amazed that I had never tasted biscuits and gravy. He said it was a staple in his home growing up and it reminded him of his family.

We stopped at the mine entrance. No one was there yet. Pat opened the paper bag and handed me a plastic fork and a Styrofoam food container. It was hot on the bottom, but it felt good in the cold. I opened the lid and, for the first time, saw biscuits and gravy. It was gray. OH! It smelled great, but it was just a pile of gray slop. Pat said, “dig in” and I did. Cautiously at first, but after the first couple of bites I was hooked. It was delicious! A young man from Wisconsin who moved to Indiana was now becoming more of a southern food lover.

We finished our breakfast and just as the cars of the striking miners began to arrive. We put on our caps and gloves and got our gear from the truck and began working. Our stomachs were full.

The strike was very violent. It lasted over 3 months. During another one of our trips to cover the strike action, the tires on our news vehicle were slashed in a union headquarters parking lot. The miners were feeling the pressure and didn’t want the media to see it. The strike lasted more than a year.

It was a good story but mostly, that day, it was a good breakfast. It’s one I will never forget.