Monday, May 24, 2010

The backstory of a story

Martha note: In today's WMRA Blog post, Tom Graham tells the story of his gathering of today's Morning Edition story. I've cut and pasted his e-mail directly onto the blog, because I think it says it all . . .
This may be too much “insider radio” for our blog friends.  Then again, one of the most frequent questions I hear is, “How do you first find out about the stories you cover?”

So here’s the tale of the news segment that finally ended up on WMRA this morning.  The one about the Free Acupuncture Clinic.

It began at 3:57pm on Monday, March 15, 2010.

We were just wrapping up that day’s broadcast of the Virginia Insight talk show. 
 “Treating Pain” had been the focus.

A family physician, a physical therapist, a psychologist, a pain management medical doctor, and an acupuncturist were the guests. 

It was acupuncturist Jody Forman who got the final word that day.  As the show wrapped, she quickly blurted that a free clinic serving military veterans and their families was available in Charlottesville every Monday evening.

Intrigued, when the show ended, the other guests and I asked Jody for more.

It turns out a number of Chinese medicine specialists - mostly from the Charlottesville area, but some from as far away as Winchester and Richmond - had decided they wanted to give thanks to U.S. military folk and their families.

So they began offering a specialized form of acupuncture treatments, for free, to any active duty military personnel, any military veteran, and their families. 

The problem was, while the clinic could treat close to two hundred people at a time, generally only about a dozen clients were showing up. 

“Ah, a story !” I thought.

Problem is Mondays are the most hectic day of the week for me.  I often don’t get home to Charlottesville until after 9 or 10 at night.  How was I going to visit a one hour clinic that only occurred Mondays evenings at 7?

Eventually I worked it out.  I recorded interviews with some of the acupuncturists, some of the military personnel.   Then put together a story and sent it to WMRA’s designated approver-of-all-things-that-get-on-the-air -- program director Matt Bingay.

Matt didn’t like it.

In retrospect, he was right. 

[Wanna know how hard it is for me to admit that?]

I had focused on the irony of a free service that hundreds, if not thousands, of people could be taking advantage of - but after a year’s worth of Monday nights, almost no one was.  This despite the fact that those who did go spoke in glowing terms of all the health benefits they’d received.

But my approach was just too quirky.  I really hadn’t focused enough on the people in this story.

So back to the drawing board.  And the editing bay.

I will resist the temptation to discuss how many more machinations had to be experienced before an acceptable [to Matt, at least] story got created. 

But one finally was. 

It aired this morning [Monday, May 24]. 

And if the result is even just one more person getting the kind of health benefits from this free clinic that other people have gotten, it will be worth all the days off I spent worrying away at this story.

I am going to keep telling myself that. 

And if I should stress out too much about it, at least I know where I can go for a highly acclaimed Monday night destressification session with needles in my ear.



[P.S.  Martha -- if you want to add some specifics:
The Free Acupuncture Clinic -- available to any one currently in the military, anyone who’s ever been in the military, and their families -- is held Mondays, 7pm, at the JABA Center, 674 Hillsdale Drive, Charlottesville.  For further detail, clinic founder Jody Forman can be reached by email at]

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