Okay, just who is in charge of this goat-roping?

A recent post from former co-worker and now religion reporter in Nashville Jamey Tucker about a bizarre moment in broadcasting in Memphis. His post, for those who haven’t seen it, was in regards to an interview with a woman who was NOT the person he was led to believe she was. While I’ve never had that happen, I’ve run into stories that, once we were on the scene, were not even close to what we had been told they were either by the assignment editor or the caller. However, the most bizarre situation I ever found myself in while in the field concerned an agriculture story in Tipton County.
The story was about corn. You know, the yellow kind that grows in fields. It seems during certain conditions, some kind of mold or fungus forms on the corn creating what is called aflatoxin. This is bad stuff for most living things that eat it. Anyway, the hook on the story was that a couple of farmers had some corn with such high levels of aflatoxin that not only could they not sell it, they were concerned that if they buried it, it might be considered hazardous waste. It sounded like a decent story to me and I was told to turn it. So I track down one of the farmers and told him I wanted to talk to him and maybe one of the other farmers who had the same problem. He agreed and off we drove to Tipton County.
When we got to the little general store where we were to meet with the farmers, I noticed what seemed like an inordinate number of pick-up trucks in the parking lot. I walked into the store and there must have been 30 or more farmers in there. I identified myself and asked for the farmer I had talked with on the phone. He stepped forth and told me that he had decided that since I was coming up there that he didn’t want to talk about the aflatoxin story afterall. Instead, he wanted to talk about the current plight of the farmer and what needed to be done to get grain prices up. He went on to say that he had contacted all of these other farmers to come by so I would have plenty of people to interview.
I have to admit I was flabbergasted. I’ve had people suggest in strong terms that we do a storyin a specific way and I’ve even changed the angle of a story when I saw something better. But I never had faced a situation where the person I was supposed to interview decided to change my story.
Now, having grown up on a farm, I sympathize with the situation farmers face on a regular basis and I shared that sentiment with the group. I told them I appreciated what they were going through and that it would be a good topic for perhaps an hour long show. But I then told them that I came up there to do a story about aflatoxin and that’s what the ND wanted and nothing else. (The ND had asked me before I left if there was any possibility that someone had already died from it in the MidSouth.) One of the farmers asked me what I would do if nobody there wanted to talk to me about aflatoxin. That’s when I decided to make it very clear where I stood. I told them that I would pack up our gear and drive back to Memphis without a story and that I would probably get chewed out by the ND for not coming back with the story he wanted.
After about ten minutes of talking, many of these very unhappy farmers began leaving and I figured my story wasn’t going to happen. It was then, the farmer I had spoken to originally walked up and told me he’d talk to me about aflatoxin and that maybe another time I could come up and talk about the plight of the farmers. I told him I would pitch the idea to the ND when I got back. I did just that. The ND then told that the chances of any of these farmers having a ratings diary was pretty slim and that most of the viewing audience really didn’t care about the plight of the farmers. As you might surmise, I never did that story and never spoke to any of those farmers again.
But I always wished that I could have gone back and done that story someway, somehow, just to let those farmers know that somebody in the news business did care.

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3 Comments on “Okay, just who is in charge of this goat-roping?”

  1. bishop Says:

    Joe,

    What are you doing now? Will we see you back on television soon?

  2. newsboyarizona Says:

    Hey, what about the white, sweet kind that they grow up in Iowa? That’s about the only good thing to come from Iowa.

  3. Anonymous Says:

    Joe:
    You might contact Joe Elmore (Used to be with 13) with the Tennessee Crossroads program or even closer with Lorraine and “Running Pony” to construct an independent piece.
    Remember the Murrow piece on farmers and migrant workers? He really didn’t have his heart in it, but look what it got him and CBS.
    Even closer…Norman Brewer used to do these things years ago and they were actually masterpieces unrecognized for local television.
    This would really be a good tribute to your Dad and his lifetime of hard work.
    ….JD


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