BOB GARFIELD: If Jim Traficant is Rocky, Tom Grant was Don Quixote. Don Quixote with a handheld mike. A local TV newsman who thought he could make a difference. But after a long career ending at KXLY in Spokane, Washington Grant recently stopped fighting the good fight and moved to print. He joins us now. Tom, congratulations on escaping the Dark Side. How long were you in the business?
TOM GRANT: I've been in television for 16 years. I started back in 1986. I've worked at the stations from Alaska to Vermont and, and worked here in Spokane for about 10 years.
BOB GARFIELD: Sixteen years, Tom -- that's 5,840 days. It took you 5,840 days to figure out that TV news sucks?
TOM GRANT:[LAUGHS] I must be incredibly stupid, huh? [LAUGHS] The thing about television news is, is that it's incredibly fun to do. You talk to people about interesting subjects. Then you rush back to the station and you put it all together, and you write a few transitions, and the story airs and people usually -- they say great things about it -- not necessarily because of anything you've done but because you know you put somebody's face on TV. And at the end of the day you go home; the story's over and you feel, you feel good about it! I liked doing TV! The trouble with TV is that if you want to do important stories, significant stories about your community, there are so many other forces that come to bear on you now that you can't do them all the time, and I felt like I was-- I was in a box! I was trapped, and, and they were just -- they kept cutting off exits all the time -- ways that I wanted to go.
BOB GARFIELD:Local TV news is ratings-generated. It presses emotional hot buttons. It stays away from controversy that will offend its local advertisers. It's superficial. It's bloody. It's all of the things we despise. Now-- for someone who's been in the business for as long as you have and with the resume you have, even participating in local TV news has to be something like a deal with the devil. Did you feel [LAUGHTER] over your 16 years in the business that you were, you had carved out some sort of deal with the devil?
TOM GRANT: You know - what can I say? Yeah. I mean I was getting - I was getting paid to do stories that many times were superficial. There came times when I would go out and do a story and they would tell me what the story was going to be after, after I came back, and I knew the story wasn't that! But they would keep pushing it, and pushing it, or - and they would, they would re-write my leads to "juice it up" - to make it more sensational than it was. And there were times when I found myself going along with this, and that's one of the things that was, that was extremely troubling to me.
BOB GARFIELD:Stop me if I'm getting too nosy, but I, I'm thinking cinematically here and I have this image of you coming home from work, sitting there in the dark at your kitchen table with an open bottle of cheap hooch next [LAUGHTER] to you. What form did you feeling bad about yourself take in your life?
TOM GRANT: Did I come back and, and sit [LAUGHS] down with some cheap hooch once a while? I certainly did. I felt like I - my - I wasn't really well the last 6 or 8 months. I wasn't taking care of myself. I wasn't as healthy as I should have been. As the pressures on television to become profit centers grow, there are more pressures put on people like me to not do things that will anger, you know, various people or will cost us, cost us a lot of money like, like a lawsuit. And so we just, so we backed away from doing anything but pablum.
BOB GARFIELD:So you're sort of Don Quixote and thinking that on the strength of your will and the righteousness of your vision and of, [LAUGHTER] of your accomplishments to date that you could have somehow tilted at the TV news windmill and won victories for journalism. You failed. The windmill won. [LAUGHTER] What would you tell other Don Quixote's who are trying to do the same thing and make TV news bend to their journalistic ambitions as opposed to the vice versa.
TOM GRANT: Yeah, I lost. Okay. I had to give up and leave. But I've had, I've had e-mails from people who asked me about that very thing, and you know what can I say to 'em but I hope you find a good station. There are f-- a few of 'em out there. And if you find one of those good stations, and then you push hard enough, you will be able to make a difference even as a TV journalist.
BOB GARFIELD: Yeah, I know that place. It's Channel 56. Brigadoon. [LAUGHTER] Tom Grant, thank you for joining us.
TOM GRANT: [LAUGHS] Okay, thank you.
BOB GARFIELD: Tom Grant is formerly a reporter with KXLY-TV Spokane and now news editor of the Spokane Local Planet.