Reporter: Ron Gollobin
News Director: Candy Altman
Aired: December 1997
Story length: 2:00
||The Story: This is a moving and memorable feature. A five-year-old
Massachusetts boy knows his life will end soon. Still, he
dreams of being a soldier. Grown-ups who are powerless to
stop his fatal disease find a way to give life to his dream.
WCVB-TV sent a reporter with a tough voice and a tender
heart to tell the story.
Story: This was a day-of-air story. It focuses on a scheduled
event-the induction of little Steven Brown into the U.S. Army.
It's the fulfillment of Steven's dream to be like his idol and
neighbor, Sergeant Miranda. The story itself is full of emotion.
Steven has only a short time to live. But it's the kind of story
that could easily have been spoiled by a lesser writer.
Story: This was a desk-generated story. But at WCVB, when
a tale like this one crossed the assignment desk, everyone knew
who should go: Ron Gollobin. News Director Candy Altman calls
Gollobin a wordsmith, a precise writer. He came from a newspaper
background. For 24 years, he covered tough stories at WCVB-organized
crime, tragedies. He was the reporter most likely to be sent to
a veteran's memorial service or a police funeral. The words he
chose helped people feel a story's power, not just learn its facts.
Gollobin says, "You've got to reach in and grab the humanity of
the story." That's what he does here, showing us a sick little
boy in a camouflage T-shirt promising to "do his duty, the best
he can." Before the officers leave, they stand facing his home
and salute their fellow soldier. The last picture we see is Steven,
returning the salute. Candy Altman remembers watching the story
as it aired that night. "I'm sitting in my office, tears steaming
down my face," she says. She looked out into the newsroom. The
tough Boston journalists in her shop were watching it, too. "Everyone
was standing still and crying," says the news director.
- The station
values strong writing. Gollobin finds details that have
impact. He tell us Steven "has never taken a bite of food."
He shows us an IV bag of medicine and nutrients, adding, "It
costs two thousand dollars a day." He tells us Steven sees heaven
as a place where he can eat his "Grammy's tomato salad." Gollobin
employs active voice in his writing. Subject-verb-object. "Steven
knows the score." His sentences are short and efficient. Each
one links to the next thought. He never overwrites; never loads
the story with hyperbolic adjectives like "horrible" or "heartbreaking."
He tells. He doesn't sell. Ron Gollobin retired from WCVB in
1999. Altman says it is fortunate that WCVB has a tradition
of hiring good writers, so there are others in her shop to uphold
Gollobin's standards. But she fears there are fewer and fewer
strong writers in broadcast journalism today. "I don't think
the industry puts a premium on good writing. 'Walk and talk'
is more important," she says. Not at WCVB.
Every word and every picture in this story work together. Gollobin speaks of sisters, and we
see them. He draws our attention to the screen, saying, "This
is Steven's IV bag…" We never have to try to figure out what
we are seeing, or why. The soundbites are spare and subjective.
A father tells of frustration, a soldier speaks of affection.
These two quotes offer feelings, not just facts. They are the
only interview bites Gollobin uses in the piece--along with
the natural sound of Steven taking his oath to serve. They enrich
the story and allow us to feel the sweet sadness of the day.
He also explains why we do not hear from Steven's mother: "She's
camera shy."Every word and every picture in this story work
together. Gollobin speaks of sisters, and we see them. He draws
our attention to the screen, saying, "This is Steven's IV bag…"
We never have to try to figure out what we are seeing, or why.
The soundbites are spare and subjective. A father tells of frustration,
a soldier speaks of affection. These two quotes offer feelings,
not just facts. They are the only interview bites Gollobin uses
in the piece--along with the natural sound of Steven taking
his oath to serve. They enrich the story and allow us to feel
the sweet sadness of the day. He also explains why we do not
hear from Steven's mother: "She's camera shy."
Delivery establishes authority. We
may not know Ron Gollobin, but we feel we do. Through his calm,
thoughtful delivery, he seems like a no-nonsense reporter. And
when he quotes a little boy saying, "Don't be scared, Daddy.
Don't be sad," those words take on even greater power. When
he recounts with almost mechanical efficiency that the family
"planned a trip to Disney World in February. The doctor said
'better go sooner.' They went in November," you can't escape
the message that time is running out. When Gollobin's businesslike
voice makes a poetic reference to a "great winter's darkness
on its way," we listen with our hearts. And when he closes with
"Soldier on, little private," those hearts are full.