Friday, July 29, 2011

Two Stories and Two Lessons

I don't much mention my reporting work for The Source, but I've had two stories recently that I think are interesting enough and how they came about instructive enough that I thought I'd write a little bit about them here.

The first is the aftermath of a tragedy. Late October 2009, a small plane crashed on takeoff from the airport here on St. Croix. All three people aboard died. I happened to be out on an assignment very near by and got to the scene pretty quickly. Got the story. Also got the story a few weeks later when the NTSB filed its preliminary accident report online.

I knew the final report would come about a year later. The process takes that long. And I knew there'd be no big announcement, they'd just post the final report in their online database the same as they'd posted the preliminary. So starting in September I started checking the database every week. In October I started checking daily. And I kept it up through November. Still nothing. And my checks to the site continued, once or twice a week instead of every day. It helped that I often drive by the site. There's a small white cross planted in the field at the very spot where I remember seeing the charred, twisted remains of the little Cessna. So that was a regular reminder to keep checking.

And finally, a couple of months ago, it paid off. I checked onto the NTSB website and in the reports for October 2009 accidents, there was the final report on the accident. Anyone who'd read the preliminary report couldn't have been surprised, but now it was confirmed. And not only did I get the story, I was the only reporter on island who did.

So there's lesson No. 1 – Persistence eventually pays off.

The second is similar. Last November the new Captain Morgan's Rum distillery opened on St. Croix. Once they use up all the current stock of the Captain, made on Puerto Rico, all the Captain Morgan's Spiced Rum in the world will be made here on St. Croix. During the opening ceremony, the CEO of the international company said they'd be spending anther four or five million to build a visitors center at the distillery. That kind of money should build a LOT of visitor center, so I tucked that away.

I drive by the distillery about a dozen times a week, mostly ferrying Millie to and from work. And every time I drove by I'd glance down the hillside and say to myself, "I ought to call and find out how the planning for that is going." But I never did. I knew the parcel of land they would be using and there hadn't been any activity, so I knew I hadn't missed anything. Still, it nagged at the back of my mind.

Finally, two weeks ago, I said it again, "I ought to call." And I finally did. Talked to the guy who runs their V.I. operation. And he said yeah, plans were well under way. In fact, he said, they''d be breaking ground the next day.

So I got the story, and again I was the only reporter on island who had it, even though I'd almost missed it too. It made it look like I was right on top of things, instead of just one lucky bastard.

The lesson from this is obvious, and more important than the previous. It's hard to beat good luck.

I'd like to claim it was my persistence or diligence or keen observation, but the fact is, it was sheer dumb luck. And you can't discount its value.

And I think those lessons also apply to other writing, the importance of persistence and the even greater value of luck. And probably to everything else in life as well.

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