Jordan Green says "stick to the facts"
On April 25, I had the privilege of attending the Oklahoma Journalism Hall of Fame's annual banquet with one of our state's finest reporters. I learned something that day: stick to the facts.
A longtime employee at The Ponca City News, Louise Abercrombie has documented almost every detail of her town's history. She has built up a reputation not only as a gifted writer, but also as a fine journalist: it was commonly said that a story wasn't verified until Louise reported it. In 2016, journalists from across Oklahoma learned about her legacy when she was inducted into the hall of fame, which is housed at the University of Central Oklahoma in Edmond.
Louise worked at a time when the newspaper world – then much bigger, I might add – was dominated by men. It was an era when women journalists were expected to write about gardening, church meetings, and weddings. Big assignments like crime stories were just “too tough” for women, said the male publishers of newspapers.
That's not to say that writing about community events and lifestyles was unimportant. But those topics just weren't for Louise.
Louise's career in journalism began in 1968, when News editor Gareth Muchmore brought her on to pick up “briefs,” which are short stories about community news. She got her stories by walking up and down city streets – 30 blocks, to be exact – no matter the weather.
As time went on, her duties grew. After taking some writing courses from the Oklahoma Press Association, she became the paper's obituary writer. Later, she held down the Chamber of Commerce beat. (In newspapering, we call covering a specific organization or type of news a “beat.”)
And it was from that beat that the intrepid reporter we all know was born.
Over the years, Louise has reported on several U.S presidents, including Ronald Reagan, Gerald Ford, Bill Clinton, and George H.W. Bush. She's also had one-on-one interviews with former president George W. Bush, British Prime Minister John Majors, and New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani. She's covered several Oklahoma gubernatorial administrations and has taken part in journalism presentations as far away as Japan.
For her work, she's earned numerous accolades – too many to list here, really.
Thanks to her experience – and her generosity – Louise has been a great mentor to me in the time I've known her. Now that she's retired, she is able to teach me a lot. And believe me, when you start your journalism career in high school like I have, you have a lot to learn.
The stories of her time in the field have always left me in awe, and the skills that she obtained while reporting have impacted me more than anything.
One of the first things Louise taught me was to get to know your audience. Not everyone has a master's degree in English, so keep your writing simple. Why say something in 10 words when it can be said in five?
Another lesson: don't use fluff in your writing. News is news, and it's meant to be direct and to-the-point. Save the flowery stuff for writing about … well, flowers. Not public corruption.
She also taught me to, of course, keep up on the news. Nothing hurts more than having someone else break your story.
But of all the lessons I've been given by my expert teacher, it was that nothing – nothing – is more important than keeping your own biases out of your news reporting. Not everyone shares your opinions, and it's not your job to change them.
As storytellers, we have an almost unbridled power in shaping the course of our nation. The information we provide frames the national dialogue, and it helps people decide by whom our government is run. It is a power we must never abuse, and one that we must always work to protect.
Louise has truly had a remarkable career. She's reported on late-breaking national news, emotional court cases, and major economic developments. But she never let her own views determine how she reported on those things. She knew that objectivity was the most important part of her job. In our day and age, it's important for we journalists to do that same thing: report things just as they are, without any personal interference. After all, only the truth can set you free.
The world is a story. Thanks to Louise, I will now be able to tell it.
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