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On the Beat

Notes from a week in the life of a Memphis television reporter.

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It's a question I'm more than occasionally asked: "How come you don't do much news anchoring, Mr. Smith?" My reply is simple: If I'm going to report on the action, I want to be where it is. Last week the diversity of news I covered as a general assignment reporter only reinforced why I think what I do is the best job in journalism. So, consider this a reporter's notebook, with my impressions at the time I was on assignment.

Monday: Even for reporters, it's sometimes hard to jump into Mondays with a lot of enthusiasm. But hearing about six shootings that resulted in two murders in four days in Brownsville, Tennessee, piqued my interest. Were they drug- or gang-related?

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When you're doing a story in a small community, you usually aim high when it comes to gathering information in the short period of time you've got to make it happen. Mayor Bill Rawls, who we reported on after he was elected as the first African-American mayor of Brownsville in June, was candid about the shock people were feeling over the shootings. Nearly all of them involved young black teens, including the random shooting of a 17 year old by another 17 year old following an argument over a cell phone.

In a town the size of Brownsville, where the black population is primarily self-segregated into a certain area of town, asking who knows what — and who did what — can quickly produce solid leads for the police. Mayor Rawls was taking a personal interest in all the cases, so much so that he was patrolling the streets in his own car trying to find names. "Wow," I thought. How refreshing to have a mayor giving more than lip-service to crime-fighting in his community.

Tuesday: I hate dealing with law enforcement when it comes to news conferences on drug busts, identity theft, or check-cashing scams. Late in the afternoon, former Shelby County District Attorney Bill Gibbons and current D.A. Amy Weirich were among those on hand to tout warrants that had been issued for the arrest of 99 people involved in a phony check-cashing scheme targeting Walmart stores. Most of the suspects made a couple hundred dollars each after splitting the profits from cashing checks totaling around $41,000. As usual, the questions from the media were plentiful, while the available details were sketchy. However, I did have a good hamburger for lunch that day.

Wednesday: Venerable WDIA radio did a live remote from inside the Shelby County Corrections Center, where there were more county officials than inmates, who made up a literally "captive" audience. Radio personality Bev Johnson asked insightful questions of a hand-picked group of inmates, who told the tragic stories of their bad choices that landed them behind bars. Memphis Councilwoman Janis Fullilove managed to provide some comic relief with her own reflections from when she'd been incarcerated at Jail East. In a way, I guess her honesty about her own human frailties makes her strangely endearing to her constituents.

Thursday: In anticipation of President Obama's immigration speech, I talked with local immigration attorney Barry McWhirter about what I think is the Pandora's Box Obama has dared to open with his executive order. McWhirter made a strong case that Obama's ultimate intent was to keep families together, rather than having them victimized by deportations. To me, Obama's approach was another example of his tunnel vision, one that feeds into the criticism that he's failed to develop much political finesse in his six years in office. Why now? Why this method?

Friday: Week's end brought a frenzy of new leads for possible big stories. On my way to cover a ground-breaking for a new park in Frayser, I was waylaid by a call from the assignment desk. Memphis Police Director Toney Armstrong had called an impromptu news conference. I had to make my apologies before the Frayser event, which would have been a great feel-good story. Then on the way to see Armstrong, an informant gave me two bombshells: The first was that Shelby County Juvenile Court Clerk Joy Touliatos had filed a lawsuit against Juvenile Court Judge Dan Michael. The second was that District Attorney Weirich had been accused of withholding evidence from the defense in a case that was on appeal and would have to testify in Criminal Court.

This is why there's the term Freaky Fridays. And it's why during this Turkey Day week, I'm thankful I am a reporter, not an anchor — so I can gobble, gobble.

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