It's been more than a month now since my first trip to the Gulf of Mexico to report on the Deepwater Horizon/BP/Transocean oil spill/leak/explosion/debacle. Covering this ongoing story has been the highlight of my journalistic career (eclipsing even a college football national championship game), yet it has only come as a result of a national tragedy, the scope of which is barely being realized.
It was easy, even a pleasure to tell the story of people like Mike Reynolds, Alabama's Turtle Tsar. The Gulf Shores real estate broker has given countless hours of his time over the past six years organizing an army of volunteers to identify and protect sea turtle nests.
Reynolds' regiment of retirees marches over 47 miles of Alabama coast line every morning before most tourists get out of bed, marking new nests with protective barricades and signs warning the frolicking masses of the $100,000 fine imposed on those who disturb the nests. It's a purely volunteer organization, run with a precision that would make Nicholas II proud.
I got a little giddy when Reynolds called me a few days after the story ran to let me know that he'd been contacted by the BBC and the LA Times seeking interviews. AOL News also did a piece on Reynolds very similar to mine, although I'm not sure if my story was the inspiration.
Likewise, it was a thrill to meet Dr. Riki Ott, a marine biologist and commercial fisherman in Alaska at the time of the Exxon Valdez spill, who has worked tirelessly since then to get Exxon to pay for the damages caused by the Valdez and to prevent other large spills from happening again.
When she tells of fighting Exxon in court for 20 years, you believe that she put forth her best effort for every minute of those years, writing two books about the lingering effects of the spill, and maintaining close ties to those affected to this day.
I was there when she warned a crowd of Orange Beach, Ala. residents about the dangers of the Corexit dispersant BP was using long before the national media or the Coast Guard caught on that the stuff was hazardous.
I also got to tour Dauphin Island amidst a flurry of National Guard troops and private contractors as they scrambled to prepare for the ominous oil slick waiting off the coast.
I'd be lying if I didn't admit that it was the thrill of a lifetime to strap myself into a Coast Guard cargo plane and film as the back door opened in mid-air, allowing me five minutes to get video footage from Ground Zero of the nation's biggest environmental disaster.
I was also very aware that my business cards say "Sports Producer," and I knew that this event, tragic as it is, represented a unique opportunity for me to report on something that matters more than any football game.
If I ever want to transition out of the all-encompassing world of college athletics, the work I did in Gulf Shores will likely be a big part of my application.
All too often, when referring to myself as a journalist, I insert an implied (or spoken) asterisk.
I was only kind of a journalist, either because I worked for an online medium or because I worked in sports, or both.
If nothing else, these events have given me the courage to remove any Barry Bondsian punctuation mark from my described profession. I have proved to myself, if no one else, that I am a journalist, no qualifiers or clarifications needed.
It feels good. It feels right. And I am thirsty for more.
|Coast Guard flyover of Gulf of Mexico oil spill|