REAL REPORTERS – Garry Armstrong

Word Prompt: Credibility

It’s never been a one-man show.

I logged more than 40-years in TV and radio news,  including 31 years at one Boston TV Station.  I’m always flattered when people say they remember me and my work. The body of work is considerable. Usually 3 or 4 daily newscasts, 5 to 6 days a week,  48 or so weeks a year times 40.  That’s a lot of news, good, bad and ugly.

A reporter,  the face in front of the camera,  gets the credit for everything. The images of life, death and the furies of Mother Nature.  Wars and Peace. Happiness and sorrow. You see the reporter, center screen with a name graphic, proof that he or she saw everything in the visuals that tell the story.

It’s a false premise.  It’s impractical. The reporter couldn’t possibly be in all the places seen in the story that has you riveted to the screen.

We’re called “talent” in business lexicon.  That should be a dead giveaway. We’re the human, face connection, to all those images on your screen.

The real reporters are the people behind the cameras.  The men and women who frequently put their lives on the line to bring you the pictures, the video seared into your sense memory.

I’m proud of all the awards I’ve received over the years. I’d be a liar if I said the hardware didn’t mean anything to me. They are reminders of the stories covered across four decades – on the local, state, national and international stages.  The awards have my name clearly etched, front and center. But I can see all the faces of those responsible for bringing the stories to life.

In the 60’s,  I was a green rookie, assigned to the national and international news,  landscapes that ranged from Vietnam, civilian dissent against the war, Civil Rights marches and violent opposition,  assassinations of national leaders,  a historic walk on the moon and a music-culture changer called Woodstock. I was a 20-something, agape at all these events I was covering for Network News.  It truly was baptism under fire.  I survived because of veterans whose careers began with the birth of radio and television news,  The great depression and World War Two.

The 20 something was handed the keys to the news kingdom.  Right place, right time. I may have often been driving the big car but those veterans always rode shotgun,  guiding me through some very difficult mazes of network news closed-door battles with the Pentagon,  the DOD and the White House.  I had a grizzled news manager who always counseled me, “Just tell the truth…make sure you’ve corroborated 2 or 3 times at least.

Don’t let the Pols or Generals faze you…make sure the stories are short, punchy…dump the adjectives”.

All that was behind me when I landed in Boston in 1970. If I thought I knew it all, I was dead wrong.  Boston was just edging its way into a golden era of TV Journalism.  The technology was rapidly changing and changing the way things were done.  TV news was still viewed with skepticism and contempt by many old-school journalists who believed the word was stronger than the picture.

Boston is a highly regarded news market. It can be tricky for a newcomer not versed in the proper pronunciation of towns and cities or the political landmines in seemingly benevolent Norman Rockwell like settings.

I was thrust into local celebrity by being a general assignment reporter covering blue-plate special stories of murders, fires, prison riots,  sexual predators, bad weather, and quirky politics.

I quickly learned to lean on the experience of the people shooting the stories.  They knew the players, the back stories,  the dos and the don’ts.

A news director (one of nearly 3 dozen I survived) told me to keep the camera crews under my thumb.  He said they were just ‘picture takers’, ‘lumpers’ and ‘complainers’.  That news director was history before I figured out how wrong he was.

Those picture takers really were reporters who saw everything around them. They knew when someone was just using his “face time” to dance around the truth and delay legal consequences. They warned me about the “frauds” and “fakers,” political and community leaders who could clean your pockets while shaking your hand.

I am especially thankful for the photojournalists who covered “the mean streets.”   They’re the ones I always saw at 3 o’clock in the morning at a devastating fire,  a triple homicide or drive-by shooting.  They always knew more than the eye-witnesses or law enforcement people just catching the case. I apologize to those whose names are omitted.  It’s impossible to do justice to all of you who were there for me and other reporters over all those years.

Boston is a unique TV news market because the competition is benevolent.  Everyone wants to be FIRST with the story, especially with the advent of electronic newsgathering.  Everything is “Now”.  It happens and,  in a few minutes,  you’re expected to be “live with breaking news”.  Truth and facts often become victims in the quest to be fast and first.

Reporters feel the pressure.  They often feel their jobs are on the line if they are not first.  The folks behind the cameras become a calming force.  They’ve observed the scene, the people, possible evidence.  Often, cameramen and women can figure out the story while fielding frantic and demanding calls from newsrooms.  Over the years,  I’ve leaned on camera and tech crews, not only from my station but also competitors.

I’ve been slipped pieces of paper with key information during live shots and looked like the best damn reporter in town.  In truth,  I was saved by a competing cameraman who saw me struggling and threw the lifeline.

I’ve been praised for memorable “standups” — those on-camera appearances where we look you in the eye and deliver riveting reports. The truth is those words often came from the people behind the camera.  Their words, repeated with sincere conviction by me.

The camera folks also correct information that we, seasoned reporters,  are sure is true.  I was often interrupted with,  “Garry, I don’t want to tell you what to say.  You always know what you’re doing…”   The bulb in my brain flashes — “Listen, know-it-all breath”.

So,  this is a thank you to Richie, Andy, Nat, Jack, Premack, Warren, Eddie,  Susan, Leslie, Noot,  Messrs. Richard Chase, “Fast Al”,  Stan The Man and all the other REAL — behind the camera reporters.

These were the journalists who enabled me to have such a long and satisfying career. Thank you!

Author: Marilyn Armstrong

Writer, photography, blogger. Previously, technical writer. Retired! Yay!

22 thoughts on “REAL REPORTERS – Garry Armstrong”

    1. The camera is the real story-teller. That’s really the whole point of television. If you want a “deep dive” into the news, that’s what newspapers and magazines are for. But on television, you see the picture and not just what somebody grabbed on a cell phone.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Tas, I watched and enjoyed “The Newsroom”. But there was too much domestic/romantic stuff going on. We were too busy chasing stories for romance. But that’s not say there weren’t exceptions. I loved the pace of “The Newsroom”. We’re always on the go — even on a slow news days. There are lots of egos — it goes with the territory but we usually tease each other with nicknames that cannot be repeated here in this PG forum.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I agree it would have been just as good without the soap opera stuff. As it was an Aaron Sorkin show I guessed he’d have done his research. TV drama’s take a bit of artistic licence but if you liked it too it must have been a good portrayal of how they do things in a newsroom.

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        1. That being said, Garry was seriously dedicated to WORK. Yes, he had a social life and he drank too much, but he was involved and he cared and he wanted to matter. He would have made a good minister (which was suggested to him several times, including by me). Most of the people he worked with were honest, but he cared and he never got calloused. He felt the pain.. More than anything else in his life he wanted to be involved and make a difference.

          Liked by 1 person

    1. Leslie, it still blows my mind to remember (I don’t always remember) that I was in the middle of all those world changing events. You’re always “in the minute” when you’re working. You never stop to consider it’s significance or ramifications. You don’t think of it as history. It’s a STORY with many levels. Now, I contradict myself. Some stories were obviously more than stories. LBJ/Vietnam, The RFK and MLK assassinations, The first moonwalk, Woodstock, The Bloody and Violent riots during the ’68 Presidential campaigns, Boston’s violent School Desegregation years, etc. These major events have lives of their own. You’re caught in the middle and do your best to report the facts with corroboration, you try to distance yourself from the horror, tragedy and human agony while objectively reporting it all. You remember YOU are not the story. You let the pictures and the people tell the story while keeping your personal feelings to yourself. There’s none of the blatant posturing you see everyday on some networks andlocal stations. Now, in retirement,I have the luxury of sharing my participation and thoughts with people (like you).

      Yes, my blood is boiling with the state of our nation, current events and the clown/squatter in the Oval Office.

      I just hope people turn out and vote in the midterms rather than sit on their collective fannies, do nothing and complain.

      If voters are apathetic, don’t blame the media.

      The fault, Brutus……

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Garry, thank you for your service as a journalist! You’ve been modest in this piece, giving credit to those behind the scenes. It does take a team working together to create an honest and current story. I thank ALL of you for delivering those final stories that shaped our world from the 60s onward. In these scary times of “fake news” being proclaimed about any story that those in power don’t agree with, it is heartening to know that there are still journalists with integrity who continue to tell the public the truth even when they feel they are swimming upstream!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks, Amoralegria, I am just telling the truth and sharing credit where it’s so richly deserved.

      The “Fake”news label always has me reaching for my BP meds.

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