Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Still Not Famous, Still Won't Play The Doors

If everyone gets their 15 minutes of celebrity, I’ve still got 12 and a half left. I think a two and a half minute news story in Eugene, Oregon qualifies as celebrity, doesn’t it? It’s certainly the closest thing to it that I’ve experienced, other than my stint in a high school rock band called “Prophacy” (the misspelling was intentional, for copyright reasons), when playing in a biker bar at 16 was the pinnacle of celebrity — even if we did suck. “No sir, we don’t know any Doors songs, and please stop throwing bottles at the drum set.”

But the news story experience didn’t suck. It was actually a lot of fun. I’m sure that I was cheating since I didn’t actually send out any press releases for the story, and the reporter was a friend of mine, but I’m still counting it as official bioTrekker tour coverage. Al Peterson is the morning show anchor at KEZI 9 News and he owed me a favor after coercing me to flail down Class III rapids on the McKenzie River in nothing but a wetsuit and a snorkel this summer. Nothing like being one frog kick or mis-timed breath away from a watery grave to rekindle your zest for life. But that’s a different story.

The story that Al couldn’t have been as riveting as a near death experience, but it was very solid. As a former newspaper reporter, it was interesting to be on the other side of the interview. I can see that there are quite a few angles you could take with this story. You could focus mostly on the travel angle or the biofuels angle, or you could get specific and focus on something like the rideshare angle — using me as an example of how RVing could really go hand-in-hand with the rideshare websites popping up, seeing as how “Ma and Pa” are driving mostly empty rigs all around the country.

Or, if you’re a leathery, skeptical enviro-reporter looking at it from a sustainability point of view, you could pull a Helen Thomas on me and hammer me with questions about whether the RV industry is even sustainable at all, or whether it’s hypocrisy to advocate conservation while getting 10 to 15 miles per gallon. Perhaps the biofuels industry is enabling people to have an excuse not to conserve by giving them biofuels to hold on to.

These would all be interesting angles to take, but by his questions, I could see Al was probably going with the “hitting the road” angle. I wondered if the biodiesel angle would get underplayed. I mean, this motorcoach I’m traveling around in is an impressive thing and all the technology is amazing, and I know it’s unusual for someone in their 20s to give up the office job and hit the road full-time, but the real reason I’m going for the news coverage is to spread awareness of renewable resources and sustainability and to advocate more biodiesel use among RVers while stirring up support for greater investment in biofuels research. This was the message I was hoping to convey through the story, and I could see that it wasn’t going to come out that way.

When the story aired, though, it changed my mind. I realized that Al knows his audience and his format better than I do. “Have you ever thought about chucking it all, kissing the boss goodbye and hitting the road? Well, a local Eugene man is doing just that, and it’s a way of life that he might maintain for 50 years or more.” That was the tease (more or less) that the anchor read leading up to Al’s story. It was catchy, I had to admit. Who hasn’t thought about chucking it all and hitting the road? I guess I’ve done some chucking, but I’m not sure if I’ve chucked it all. And I guess I did say that I hoped I’d never have to go back to an office that didn’t move, but to be honest, I’ll be a little surprised if the bioTrekker campaign lasts more than five years, not to mention 50! I can just see it, a 78-year old man rattling around the country in a faded bioTrekker bus with a million miles on it, all duct taped together. Now that’s a story.

But Al did get to the biodiesel angle after he hooked them with the “chuck it all” pitch, and I have to say, it made for a better TV news piece. Trying to explain all the intricacies of biofuels and sustainability in under three minutes would be damn near impossible. So let people have a fun story about a 28 year-old boss chucker and maybe they’ll be interested enough to check out the website and think about biodiesel for a few minutes out of a busy day.

So, as I think back on my scrappy newspaper days, for all those folks who called to tell me that I reported MY story instead of the story YOU wanted me to report, I know exactly how you feel. But just like I learned from Al, my version of the story was probably better than yours.

I think that, for the most part, the only agenda of a good journalist is to put together the most interesting story. A bad journalist probably just wants to get by with the least amount of work. The rest is all up to personality, and whether or not they feel like pulling a Helen Thomas on you that day. As for my remaining 12.5 minutes, we’ll just have to see if everyone is as kind as Al.

—Ty Adams

For the shortened, web version of Al’s story, go to

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