Journalism and the lost art of the eccentric | Opinion


Aside from solid information on which to base perspectives and life strategies, the thing I miss the most from my morning reading is eccentricity.

There is no place for those little stories that remind us of how heroic – and ridiculous – the human race is.

There was the article in the microfilm archives of a man in town in the 1850s on his way to California. He kept 2,000 turkeys on foot. And there was the woman who sculpted a full-size Harley-Davidson motorcycle with moving parts in granite. And the brave music critic who lost his job for describing a Gustav Mahler composition as looking like “a fire in a big zoo”.

A master of this journalism school was Jim Fisher, an old friend and the “man in the office next door” oft-cited for much of my career as a journalist. Seriousness was foreign to Fisher’s makeup. Work was supposed to be fun, he insisted, and at $ 95 a week, why would you do it any other way? Jim chewed tobacco because it was cheaper than smoking.

After leaving Princeton to join the Marines, Fisher made a career as a journalist traveling the Midlands in search of the ultimate eccentric story. He was good enough to be given a regular spot in the MacNeil / Lehrer report on PBS. He won an Emmy there, chaw and everything

Fisher was at the scene for the famous Yellville, Ark., Turkey Drop which later became an episode for “WKRP in Cincinnati”. In a Thanksgiving promotional stunt, a local service club unwittingly threw 200 turkeys (the flightless domestic type) from a plane at a crowded mall.

In the TV version, the segment ends with the still distraught station manager Arthur Carlson saying, “God witnessed me, I thought turkeys could fly.”

It is said that Fisher could wander through a city the size of a teacup and find a man repairing lutes. He can show you a city ordinance that prohibits “quackery” and tell you when Chetopa, Kansas declared war on 7th Calvary.

Fisher interviewed a male-female herpetology team who had spent three decades using radio trackers to try to prove that box turtles never stray more than a mile from their hatching. . . until one of them explodes his thesis by inexplicably heading for Florida. Fisher named him Sinbad.

Jim covered the “funeral” of Mrs. Gladys Rogers, a woman from southern Missouri, in dry ice, who for an hour and a half in front of a crowd of 200 people was the subject of an attempted resurrection. Fisher’s attention to detail included the observation that the frozen Mrs. Rogers lay in a chest-type freezer (with legs), not a portable freezer that rested directly on the floor. “The family felt the style of the fixture was more ‘decorative,’ Fisher wrote.

And there was the corn farmer during Jimmy Carter’s oil crises who had meticulously kept books proving he made more money growing with a mule.

Fisher can find on a map the site of a pioneer Mennonite settlement on the Great Plains in the 1860s that was hit by two tornadoes from different directions several days in a row before the cars could even be unloaded. The stubborn Mennonites didn’t go away, they just built underground.

Fisher knows the reason “Assistant Coroner” was such a coveted title during the Depression (you have to keep the alliances). He can tell you how they breed Roller Pigeons to fall into a fit but recover just before they hit the ground (most of the time). He can introduce you to a couple from the suburbs who built an airplane in their basement.

It could go on considerably longer, but I refer you to “The Best of Jim Fisher”, his anthology. You will have the chance to find a copy. Fisher’s style of journalism is old fashioned, not that he doesn’t care.

You should be concerned about that, however. We need eccentricity in our lives. Editors today see themselves as the most serious men and women, all focused on saving the world from those who think differently about themselves.

Fisher threw water on it. His clip file documents that we are all in the same boat, that man is not perfectible in this world, that life involves risks and takes unexpected turns, that there is wisdom in failure. , that endurance leads to character and character to be hoped for, that the government not only cannot fix everything, but seldom knows what is wrong.

Jim retired. I miss talking to him.


Comments are closed.