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Teri Orr: Write right write

Teri Orr: Write right write

Teri Orr
  

Park Record columnist Teri Orr.

After a little reflection, I have concluded the longest continuous relationship I have had in my 42 years in Park City- is with the printed word.

A librarian in Lake Tahoe encouraged me to write as I was moving from there to here. So did a sort of palate cleanser boyfriend who taught 5th grade there. In March of 1979-the very time I moved to town-I started to scribble some thoughts. Then I brazenly walked into the Park Record office that first month and said I thought I could write a column for their paper that would reflect the shifting demographic of the community. In hindsight, it was an incredibly presumptuous proposal.

This week I attended the Society of Professional Journalists awards, and I was humbled to be in the room with the journalistic giants in Utah. The Trib and the DNews and the NPR affiliate radio stations and the big dogs like television heavyweight KSL and the smaller papers like the Moab Times-Independent. Up and down this state, with native tribes and billionaires aplenty, there are stories about all the folks who need justice. People who are murdered because of bad cops or the pigment of their skin. The Utah prisons that release inmates with no plans for them -last year were losing track of 300 former inmates a month. Those people were released back into the system with no follow-up and thru plans. So they committed heinous crimes. Again. Did they rape and murder again? Yes, they did. And did a team of fearless reporters follow those folks down dark alleys to report on them? Yes, they did. Sunshine awards are given to those journalists who report stories where the sun needs to shine- in dark corners.



We stood up and applauded and cheered each other and high-fived and giggled and wore shoes and clothes that no one ever sees in a newsroom. We have a secret and unspoken language that translates to- this is hard and thankless all the other days of the year, and I see you. And I am in awe of your hard work -sure- but mostly of your bravery.

Newsrooms aren’t like in the movies- they are filled with fragile egos and unsure decisions of which story to tell. Because facts are malleable and fluid depending upon the camera angle or who the interviewer chose to speak to at the crime scene (which can also be the council chambers).



There is an old adage in journalism- it’s hell when the truth gets in the way of a good story. And it is so true – when you think you know where a story started and how it is gonna predictably end – except it doesn’t, and it didn’t, and it won’t.

Depending upon your camera angle, you can capture the moment of impact or the aftermath of the crash. Or the victims inside the car or the cop who arrives on the scene. Which is true of all good stories. Is it about the charges filed or the outcome of the trial, or both? And for the rest of our lives, there is the second-guessing and asking yourself- did I cover the story well, or did I become the story? Did I sympathize with the victim or the perpetrator? Is there another way -all together -to try and understand what took place?

And then there is the scar damage. You don’t unsee the victim murdered at close range. The toddler pulled from the fire. The car crash with the broken glass and broken glasses at the scene.

I hadn’t been to the awards ceremony in ages. Truth be told -no one had- of course- for two years. But before that? Maybe five/six/seven years ago when former longtime Park Record editor, Nan Noaker, got the -lifetime achievement award. There were five editors from the Park Record in a photo that night. One even predated me.

The emcee for this year’s evening was Lester Rojas, a handsome Latinx man in a tux. Most folks there had put on clothes no one ever sees in a newsroom. Think of it as a kind of awkward geek ball with no dancing or music and bad food and boxed wine, and there you have it.

KPCW, our local NPR affiliate, cleaned up in every category they entered, as did some former KPCW staffers who had moved on to the larger Salt Lake City market for journalism.

“Comfort the afflicted, afflict the comfortable” is an oft-quoted line about the job of the journalist. It was written by a cartoonist more than a century ago. But the principle is the same. The whole -shining light in dark corners- is risky business. And it can mean you have confronted giants and… taken away their stilts.

When Jeff Bezos took over the Washington Post, there was fear in the newsrooms everywhere- would he use that revered paper to promote his own version of news? My fellow journalists tell me he never steps in the newsroom -literally or metaphorically. What he did do was help create a new tagline for the paper in 2017- “Democracy Dies in Darkness.” The paper created that new language during the dark Trump years.

And that tagline is a truth that is worth repeating each fragile Sunday in the Park…

 

Teri Orr won a second place award this year in Category One, which includes the Salt Lake Tribune and the Deseret News. It was for her column in November of 2021 entitled, Be Bold?


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