Favorite

Hanks on Hanks 

Voice from LR media past has a new book

The good thing about working in a newsroom is that you occasionally have a breeze from the past waft in over the transom. The latest example turns out to be a new book from an old star of the Little Rock media cosmos: investigative- reporter-turned-media-professor?Mel Hanks.

After a childhood spent in the Florida Keys, Hanks moved to Little Rock in 1974 for his first on-air job at KTHV Channel 11. Over the next 29 years, Hanks managed to work at all three of the market's network stations, as well as teach journalism at UCA and ASU. He is probably best known, however, for his 14-year stint at KARK Channel 4, where he made a name for himself as one of Little Rock's most tenacious investigative reporters.

After leaving Arkansas in 2003, Hanks worked for a while as a news director for a small television station in Yuma, Ariz., before landing his current job as an assistant professor of media studies at Fort Hays State University in western Kansas. Reached at his office there, he fondly recalled his time in Little Rock. “It was a great feeling,” he said. “That was probably the best time of my life, doing investigative reporting like that. It really affected a lot of people. It wasn't just, well, I have to fill a minute and a half tonight on the news. You could really see the impact.”

While Hanks' new book “Getting It First and Getting It Right: A Reporter's Guide to Surviving in the Trenches,” is officially a journalism textbook, it also manages to present a good bit of memoir, including Hanks' take on some of Arkansas's most high-profile stories of the 1980s and '90s.

“I figured I should give some examples, rather than having people say, ‘Who's this idiot?'” he said. “These are things that actually happened… Some of it's laughable and some of it's shocking. But you have to take the good with the bad to know what the business is really all about.”

Included as examples in the book are Hanks' account of reporting on the story of cop killer James Dean Walker; exposing a theft ring that stole pets for sale to medical testing labs; the beating death of 4-year-old Steven Walters, which led to a special legislative session and an overhaul of the state's child welfare laws; and the “Boys on the Tracks” case, in which two teen-agers were killed and their bodies placed on railroad tracks near Bryant.

 “The one that we did more stories on that really went nowhere was the kids on the tracks, the two teen-agers run over by a railroad train in 1987,” Hanks said. “That one led to a grand jury and all kinds of speculation. It was almost like a spider web of leads, and we never really dotted the I or crossed the T on that.”

Hanks said he wrote the book as a way of telling students all the things no one ever told him about the news business while he was in college.

“When I was in school and even as a professor here,” he said, “there wasn't really a book that said: OK, here's what you're really going to face. Here's what happens when you have an assignment editor. Here's what will happen when a producer wants three versions of the same story.”

Hanks has seen a decline in local investigative journalism since his days on the air. He blames it on news directors who are afraid of making people angry for fear of losing advertising dollars.

“Not only in Little Rock but all across the country, it seems that investigative reporting – on the local level at least – is given kind of short shrift. You have to take a lot of heat when you do investigative reporting, and a TV station is a business. Usually the ultimate boss is going to have a sales background, and the way you succeed in sales is by making people happy.”

As a media professor, Hanks said he often encourages his students to go looking for untold or controversial stories. Hanks said that a more aggressive approach will pay off for a station in the long run.

“I think that you get more ratings and therefore more money if you rock the boat in a good way,” he said, “because that means more people will watch and that means more ratings and more advertising. I don't think they see it that way. I think it's more of a short-term gain for them where they don't want to rock the boat ever.”

Asked if he sees himself working in television again, Hanks said the news business has probably passed him by. These days, he's happy imparting what he knows to a new generation of reporters.  “I've always loved deadlines of any sort, but the business is so competitive now, especially with the Internet,” he said. “To be honest with you, I'm not sure I could keep up.”

                                            Exclusive!                                       david@arktimes.com

Favorite

Sign up for the Daily Update email

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

More by David Koon

  • Tough mothers, demanding action

    Interest in the gun violence prevention group Moms Demand Action has exploded since the massacre at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High in Florida. Leaders here say they're in the battle for 'gun sense' until the job is done.
    • Apr 5, 2018
  • The Griffin

    El Dorado's new restaurant showplace is worth the drive.
    • Mar 15, 2018
  • Arkansas's medical marijuana growers come to light

    Four counties, five companies, lots of jobs in the cannabis business.
    • Mar 8, 2018
  • More »

Latest in Media

  • UA cozy with D-G columnist

    An interesting element of the ongoing story of budget problems in the University of Arkansas Advancement Division has been a divide in outlook in the pages of the state's dominant news medium, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
    • Nov 21, 2013
  • Democrat-Gazette covers one of its own in story of reporter Cathy Frye's rescue

    The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette's reports on the rescue of its reporter Cathy Frye, who was missing for days in the hot scrubby desert that is Big Bend Ranch State Park, are gripping.
    • Oct 10, 2013
  • Hodge shares his OA vision

    Roger Hodge, the new editor of Oxford American magazine, talked about his rise at Harper's, his writing philosophy and his plans for the OA before a full crowd last Wednesday at the Clinton School.
    • Sep 26, 2012
  • More »

Most Viewed

  • She's no Jeff Sessions

    Wouldn't it be refreshing if Arkansas had an attorney general as dedicated to the rule of law as Jeff Sessions?
  • Trump train derailed

    So here's my question: If Trump's going to make America great again, when was America last great? And what was so great about it?
  • Medicaid favor

    Arkansas's distinctive form of Medicaid expansion has been precarious since its creation in 2013 by a bipartisan coalition.
  • Living in poverty

    To successfully raise children as a single mother living in poverty in Central Arkansas requires a staggering amount of resilience, a significant amount of support from loved ones and the community, and at least a little bit of luck.

Most Recent Comments

  • Re: Week That Was

    • The other worrisome one is the one with the email of 'zyklonwolf', which any historically…

    • on April 23, 2018
 

© 2018 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation