Monday, June 8, 2009


I just finished rifling through my closet, looking for laundrables and something to wear to my cousin's wedding this weekend (a northern Wisconsin wedding, mind you, meaning whatever I wear had better be beer-proof), when I realized I haven't worn khakis since I was a newspaper reporter.

They're still there, hanging toward the back where I left them about a year and a half ago, a reminder in three shades of tan how completely I detest khakis. I don't like the way they feel. I don't like the way they ride. I don't like the half-assed way they try to be both casual and formal at the same time, because they fail utterly at both. I kind of like the color, but only in a shirt or a jacket -- NOT pants.

I don't miss my khakis at all, ever. I do occasionally miss working for the newspaper.

The similarities and differences between being a newspaper reporter and a radio reporter, the appeals and the downsides, are the material for a book, not a blog post. But what occasionally gets me longing to get out from behind the mic, more than glancing at khakis in the closet, is the desire to take a really juicy story that comes across my desk and sink my teeth all the way into it. There was little as satisfying in my old job as being able to break a story down into its component parts and reassemble a dozen divergent narratives into one cogent storyline.

Poring over stacks of documents and recorded interviews, drawing time lines or illustrating action sequences, they're all ways of loading pellet after pellet of fact into a shell, resulting in a shotgun blast of information to the consumer's face that should leave them with few -- if any -- questions.

Conversely, reporting for broadcast is like sniping with an automatic rifle. Each story has to be delivered in a quick, precise, neat little package before you move quickly to deliver the next. It doesn't carry nearly the stopping power of a newspaper article, but given a sufficient volume of stories, it serves to lay down an impressive cover fire.

Yes, it's a little absurd I find it so easy to compare delivering the news with shooting the news consumers. Chew on that for a while.

My long-forgotten point is that every once in a while a story comes along that gets me yearning for the time to rip it open in detail, and last week, my friends Jen McCoy and Shannon Green at the Portage Daily Register got to write that story. If I were still working in the Portage office, I would have dropped whatever I was doing to have a hand in covering the saga of the "Food Fight Five."

If you haven't heard the tale yet, it's quick and dirty. In their final days of the school year, four sophomores and a super senior at Portage High School decided to instigate a classic food fight in the lunch room. The fray was short-lived, but apparently served to coat the floor and the fighters in foodstuffs. The offending students were lead off to the Principal's office, where I'm sure they received "a good talking to," and that's where this story should have ended.

Except it didn't.

School officials called in the cops, who came and dragged the kids downtown in cuffs on charges of disorderly conduct. One account of the story I read said the students were given a standing ovation on their way out, and while I'm sure that cheered them somewhat, it doesn't exactly justify the hands-on approach that was used.

I say this as someone who knows and has worked with a good number of the police and school officials involved, but seriously -- lighten up a little, guys. It's not like the kids strapped rows of hot dogs to their chests and claimed to be wearing bombs. They hucked a little food around the cafeteria and made a mess. A punishment befitting the crime would have had these kids on hands and knees scrubbing the mess up, not in a containment cell downtown while the janitor did the dirty work. I guarantee not a one of the boys would have complained that a day's janitorial duty was out of line as far as punishments go.

I respect the hell out of the fact that even when pressed, the boys have not been willing to say they'd go back and do anything differently. My blog's title, "It's All About the Story," can be correctly interpreted several ways. Long after these kids have started losing their hair and settled into "responsible" jobs, they'll have the tale of the time they were hauled out of Portage High School for throwing some yogurt around to baffle their co-workers or laugh about over a beer.

Detective Lt. Mark Hahn of the Portage Police Department, who I would fathom from personal experience was something of a hellion himself when he was in high school, told the Daily Register, "Anything minor like that can escalate into a larger problem... Some kids were upset because of the food on them."

To which I'm obligated to respond, "They deserved to get food on them!" By all accounts, the Food Fight Five conducted themselves in a manner befitting the deeply-rooted traditions of the food fight. In accordance with the Treaty of Chicken Kiev, the instigators of the fracas declared from a place of prominence, vociferously, "FOOOOOD FIIIIIGHT!" before any foodstuffs were indeed hurled. This allowed noncombatants and civilians ample warning to seek cover.

Besides, any high schooler who's convinced him-or-herself he or she is so mature as to actually get vocally upset upon being plastered with a tray full of taco salad should be skipped back four grades and forced to try high school again, but with a sense of humor and withOUT such a material dependence this time around. They're just clothes, and you're only in high school once.

Portage High School Vice Principal Brian Seguin told the Daily Register, "A vast majority of comments from other kids was it was inappropriate that it happened."

Well, DUH! Of course it's inappropriate, and by definition then, fun. As mentioned, there comes a time when you can't get away with nearly as much fun as you can at that age. Miss your chance to sling grub when you can't be charged as an adult, and you'll have to wait until you're stuck in a nursing home and are old enough to blame it on senility.

1 comment:

Tim Morrissey said...

Dusty, the Portage Register should buy your stuff and run you as a communist - er, columnist. Better yet, Mid-West should move cautiously into the 21st century and podcast stuff like this piece. You should be doing 4-5 podcasts a week with a format like this.

Good stuff!