Recent history has brought no shortage of media failings. But recent news also provides a reminder of what a good reporter can do.
The staff at the Des Moines Register is used to informing the world about the first nominating contests of each U.S. presidential election. But a former Register reporter who crafted his own obituary has shared a few lessons for everyone that go well beyond politics. For starters there’s the virtue of doing a job with humility and grace.
Ken Fuson’s death last week of liver cirrhosis triggered the publication of his unusual, autobiographical obituary. After describing himself as “stunned to learn that the world is somehow able to go on without him,” he adds:
Ken… decided when he was a sophomore at Woodward-Granger High School that he wanted to be a newspaper reporter. He covered sports for the Woodward Enterprise before leaving for the University of Missouri-Columbia.
He attended the university’s famous School of Journalism, which is a clever way of saying, “almost graduated but didn’t.” Facing a choice between covering a story for the Columbia Daily Tribune or taking his final exams, Ken went for the story…
In 1981, Ken landed his dream job, working as a reporter for The Des Moines Register… In 1996, Ken took the principled stand of leaving the Register because The Sun in Baltimore offered him more money. Three years later, having blown most of that money at Pimlico Race Track, he returned to the Register, where he remained until 2008… No, he didn’t win a Pulitzer Prize, but he’s dead now, so get off his back.
Fuson actually did win many other awards, but more importantly he seems to have won the respect of a good number of readers. A weather report he wrote for the Register in 1995 consisted of one long sentence:
Here’s how Iowa celebrates a 70-degree day in the middle of March… by eating an ice cream cone outside and (if you’re a farmer or gardener) feeling that first twinge that says it’s time to plant and (if you’re a high school senior) feeling that first twinge that says it’s time to leave; by wondering if in all of history there has ever been a day so glorious and concluding that there hasn’t and being afraid to even stop and take a breath (or begin a new paragraph) for fear that winter would return, leaving Wednesday in our memory as nothing more than a sweet and too-short dream.
The current staff at the Register has published its own obituary. The paper’s Daniel Finney writes of the many colleagues and journalism students who benefited from Fuson’s generosity and advice. Mr. Finney reports:
His first job was at the Columbia Daily Tribune in Missouri. He worked so late on a story one night that an editor found him asleep on a couch in the newsroom the next morning.
“Never love a newspaper,” Fuson remembered the editor telling him. “It’ll never love you back.”
Fuson ignored the advice.
Some media types have lately become known for their anti-religious zealotry but it seems that Fuson was more than merely tolerant of faith. Fuson wrote of himself:
For most of his life, Ken suffered from a compulsive gambling addiction that nearly destroyed him. But his church friends, and the loving people at Gamblers Anonymous, never gave up on him. Ken last placed a bet on Sept. 5, 2009. He died clean. He hopes that anyone who needs help will seek it, which is hard, and accept it, which is even harder. Miracles abound…
For many years Ken was a member of the First United Methodist Church in Indianola and sang in the choir, which was a neat trick considering he couldn’t read a note of music. The choir members will never know how much they helped him. He then joined Lutheran Church of Hope. If you want to know what God’s love feels like, just walk in those doors. Seriously, right now. We’ll wait. Ken’s not going anywhere.
Ken had many character flaws – if he still owes you money, he’s sorry, sincerely – but he liked to think that he had a good sense of humor and a deep compassion for others.
Rest easy, Ken Fuson.
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(Teresa Vozzo helps compile Best of the Web. Thanks to Heather Champion.)
Mr. Freeman is the co-author of “Borrowed Time,” now available from HarperBusiness.
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