PAINTER: A journalist’s memorable stories

Dec 21, 2011


Journalists always have long memories of some of the stories that have stood out throughout their careers. I’m no exception.

But I doubt if there are too many journalists who had the career start I did.

I had just been hired by the Swartz Creek News in 1974. The News was a small weekly newspaper located in a small community just outside of Flint.

For my first assignment, my editor had me cover the Swartz Creek school board meeting. There didn’t appear to be too much on the agenda, so I was expecting to write about routine school news.

But shortly after the meeting began, the board president called for an executive session. That meant that all of the audience, including reporters, were asked to leave the meeting.

Five hours later, the executive session was still going. Shortly after midnight, the board reopened the meeting to the public. The president then announced that the superintendent of schools had been fired.

What I had thought would be a routine meeting turned into the biggest story of the year in Swartz Creek. Fortunately, my editor was able to tell me who to interview and I was able to get the story done in time for that week’s newspaper. I’ve never forgotten that meeting.

As I moved up the career ladder, my wife, Marilyn, and I ended up in Del Rio, Texas — where I landed a job on a small daily newspaper located on the Texas-Mexico border. Among my new duties was the police beat. And yes, here we go again.

My first police story involved a shoot-out between two bars. Two men — one in each bar — were shooting at each other. Fortunately, no one was injured.

Later, I would cover a police story that was even more bizarre. The Shah of Iran was still in power and he was sending his air force pilots to be trained at Laughlin Air Force base just outside of Del Rio.

One night, I heard on the scanner about an Iranian pilot who drove his van off a railroad crossing bridge. He escaped with minor injuries. The driver told police he thought he had put his vehicle on automatic pilot as he went to the back of the van to retrieve a beverage.

I was not a popular person at Del Rio City Hall. Some citizens were upset about the closing of a fire station and had launched a recall drive against the mayor.

There were two ballots — one in English and one in Spanish. I took a copy of the ballots home and showed Marilyn, who studied Spanish in college.

The English version read: “Shall the mayor be removed from office.” The Spanish version, Marilyn said, read: “Shall the mayor be thrown out of office.” I wrote a story about the different wording, and the city was forced by the state to reprint the ballots.

My most memorable story, though, took place in Grand Haven. In the spring of 1998, a fierce windstorm roared through the area, knocking down numerous trees and power lines. The wind was so strong it blew the roof off a condominium complex in Spring Lake.

News Editor Becky Vargo knocked on my door and informed me that the entire Tri-Cities community was without power. The Grand Haven Tribune had never missed a day of publication and that record was in jeopardy as we tried to figure how to produce a newspaper.

We called our neighbor, The Holland Sentinel, and they came to our rescue. The Tribune editorial staff covered the news in the Tr-Cities and then headed to Holland in the late hours to produce Monday’s newspaper.

Publisher Lee Carter was able to get his hands on a generator and we were able to use our computers. But we still had to print the paper in Holland.

Finally, the next day, power was restored. Those two days will always stand out in my memory.


Post a Comment

Log in to your account to post comments here and on other stories, galleries and polls. Share your thoughts and reply to comments posted by others. Don't have an account on Create a new account today to get started.