NORMAN — Dad always said everything happens for a reason. While moving a box of old papers around recently, a photograph fell from inside a file folder. It was of a young college instructor at the Democratic National Convention, where he was directing the efforts of a class of student journalists covering the proceedings for Oklahoma daily newspapers.
That convention closed exactly 25 years to the date the photo literally fell from the box. Not much else got done that day. The rest of the afternoon was spent going through those convention memoirs.
It was quite a trip. Michael Dukakis was nominated. Gene Stipe held court nightly in the Atlanta hotel. Bill Clinton bombed his floor speech. The “Omni” was over capacity and the fire marshal locked the doors.
On the floor, Congressman Bill Bradley, a former NBA player, looked up at the crowd and remarked that it was the first time he had been in that building with his pants on. And the van OU put us in broke down near Fort Smith, Ark.
Students, selected from the top of OU’s journalism program, studied the candidates, the party process and the convention history. They interviewed state delegates and party leaders as well as attended the convention sessions.
They wrote dozens of articles before and during the convention for their assigned papers. In most of the dailies, the students owned Page 1. I took another group to New Orleans for the Republicans’ big show a month later.
The young scribes wrote their stories on Radio Shack TRS-80 Model 100 laptop computers and transmitted them back to their newspapers. It was slow by today’s standards but pretty progressive then. Eight years earlier, as a student in the class taught by Professor Ralph Sewell, my stories were dictated over the telephone to the Associated Press, which sent them to the papers.
The Model 100s displayed six lines of type and were clumsy. My brief case included a toolbox with wire cutters, electrical tape, a separate telephone and various gadgets in case the hotel lines didn’t quickly accommodate our connection.
Today, it’s standard in most rooms, but 25 years ago, most innkeepers didn’t understand a request for a “dataport” or a “modem” in the room. Forgiveness, not permission, was my policy as I rewired many a room.
I often think of where those students are today. Some still work in journalism, but we seldom cross paths. Others left for better opportunities. Four years later, I accompanied another group to both conventions.
On the all-night drive home from Atlanta, we stopped at the Shoney’s in Tupelo, Miss., birthplace of Elvis. As you can imagine, the place had every kind of Elvis souvenir made, from bobbleheads to velvet wall hangings and blue suede shoes. It was a shrine.
Tulsa student David Fallis, the son of former district attorney “Buddy” Fallis, asked the waitress if she knew where he could buy “some really tacky Elvis stuff.” We left shortly thereafter. Fallis now works on the Washington Post.
Students transmitted their final day’s stories from a truck stop pay phone using a set of “cups” that plugged into the computer. One idle trucker, intrigued by the setup, asked what the young co-ed was doing.
“It’s kind of like a kid sending his report card home to his mother,” she said.
His response was priceless and would make Gomer Pyle proud: “Gollee. What’ll they think of next?”