Steve: Journalism is still a business of storytelling

Sometimes you meet or hear about someone who has a job you would kill for or would have at some point in your life.

I just met someone like that. She’s a young college degree holder working with a program designed to get people to sign on with enhanced Medicaid and Health Care Exchange programs in New Mexico under the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare.

Stephanie Grilo is her name. Her job title: Story teller.

Turns out Stephanie was a theater major, and she has taken on her story teller role as an internship position with Health Action New Mexico. Still, to be able to tell people my job was “story teller” would be cool.

Health Action New Mexico, her employer, recognizes (notice I didn’t just say “thinks” or “believes”) that stories are powerful. Stephanie’s job is to follow presenters around the state and collect stories — the successes, the disasters, the difficulties overcome — of people who sign up for ACA enhancements. The stories are expected to encourage people to apply to qualify for these programs.

Just about all of us who in some way write for a living know that our love of good stories drove us to want to tell them. We hope that our stories are as compelling to our readers as they seem to be to us at the time.

I’ve worked as a journalist, a public relations practitioner (a “flack” on the “dark side” to my current colleagues), and as several other things. Until recently, my job has always been to write stories in some way, but the title of “story teller” has eluded me. Stephanie has that title, and that makes me jealous to some degree.

I had the privilege of meeting two people as I committed journalism in the 1970s who had written books that told great stories.

One was Hal Higdon. He had just written a book called “The Crime of the Century” about the Leopold and Loeb case, the “thrill killing” case of the 1920s. Higdon made me envious for two reasons. One, he had written a book that told a story. Two, he was also an accomplished distance runner, another designation I never achieved. I never ran anything longer than a 10K — 6.2 miles.

Hal was a very serious guy who exuded discipline. While I jogged and wrote news on deadline, he ran marathons and wrote books

Then there was Steve Tesich. He had written a great story about a thoroughly Anglo kid in Bloomington, Indiana, who wanted to be an Italian bicycle racer. It was called “Breaking Away” and had just been turned into a movie. Hollywood even kept the title.

Tesich had this way of tossing off his phenomenal achievements like they didn’t matter.

“Yeah,” he said. I could picture him with his feet on his desk. “I got an MD, tried medicine. Then I decided to try writing.”

He tried writing a book. It was hit. Then it was made into a movie. Also a hit. After being a doctor. And he made it sound like, “Well, gee, what do I do after lunch?”

Briefly, I hated him. But then it occurred to me that he was probably a certified ultra-Mensa kind of guy blessed with massive amounts of IQ and versatility.

I’ll probably never write a book. As an ex-Californian, though, I’ve always had a work-in-progress hidden in a desk drawer. That seemed to be a requirement in California if you did work that involved a desk with drawers. Even accountants had novels and screenplays in their desk drawers.

Did any screenwriters keep wannabe audit reports in their desk drawers? I’d doubt it.

So now I live in Tucumcari, surrounded by mesas, clean air and a dearth of humanity. I have returned to journalism, which is story telling, only with facts and confirmations. OK. It’s not the Pulitzer for fiction I dreamed of, but it’s fun. I keep turning out news, which I enjoy, and these nice people in Clovis keep sending me money twice a month. Actually, that’s not a bad story to tell.

Steve Hansen is the managing editor at the Quay County Sun. He can be reached at shansen@qcsunonline.com

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