Today's 'routine' story is tomorrow's history

February 9, 2017 01:30

By Pat Duggins, RTDNA Contributor

All of us, occasionally, get news assignments that leave us groaning “what, this again?” Whenever I get this complaint from one of our University of Alabama student interns, I’m reminded of a story.

Along with running our national award-winning news team, I’m also working on a Master’s degree in journalism. I’m studying how internet audience data influences newsroom decision making.

One of the requirements for this degree was a class called “Mass Media Law.” It deals with subjects like first amendment violations, copyright law, libel and and so on.

One day, the professor was giving a lecture on media lawsuits involving the infliction of emotional distress. He used the 1985 missing child case of Regina Mae Armstrong in Orlando as an example. The five year old was abducted and never found alive.

As the professor spoke, I and all of my “twenty-something” classmates sat taking notes. As he wrapped up, he looked at me at the back of the room and asked, “Pat, do you know anything about the Regina Mae Armstrong case?”

“Professor,” I responded. “I covered it.”

Cue the looks of disbelief from the young people in the room.
In 1985, I was a year out of college and a rookie reporter in public radio. My news director told me to go to Armstrong’s home to interview the parents of the missing little girl. I considered it a routine assignment as I drove to the suburban Orlando neighborhood where television live trucks had all gathered.

Being young and foolish, I walked up to Regina’s father and asked “I know this is a bad time, but can you talk about the good times?” That led to the sound I needed to file my stories.

To this day, I wonder how I would have handled this assignment if I had known, in thirty years, university students would be studying this event as history. I frequently share this story when I get the “what, this again” look from reporters or interns when their assignments seem just a little too routine.

Pat Duggins is News Director at Alabama Public Radio.