Just 1 Question: UI media alums' unforgettable stories

Just 1 Question: UI media alums' unforgettable stories

This being Sunshine Week — media's annual spotlight on the importance of open government — Editor JEFF D'ALESSIO asked three of the 1,610 former Illini profiled on our special UI-at-150-and-beyond website to tell us a story about a challenging assignment they've reported on.

STEVE OSUNSAMI ('93)

Emmy-winning correspondent, ABC News

"In the late 1990s when I first started with ABC News, I was covering a racially motivated murder, a dragging death in Texas. The trial of the main suspect, a white supremacist named John King, was difficult to get through, with details so graphic they couldn't be reported on network television.

"The detail that tore me apart was when the medical examiner testified that he could determine, based on his examination of the victim, that James Byrd Jr. was still alive as his arms and legs were being ripped apart from his body as he was being pulled from the back of the truck by three racists.

"I kept imagining that it was me, or my brother, walking down that same lonely road the night the victim was killed. It hit me hard.

"Back then, there were fewer people of color in the news business, and few black men.

"There was one other black reporter in the courthouse that day. A local reporter from one of the Texas stations. We had never really talked and didn't know each other at all, but when we walked out of the courthouse that afternoon, we both broke down into tears and hugged each other for a very long time.

"I took that experience and ran with it in the stories we filed that day. That what happened to this victim was not just an assault on him, but on black Americans in general. I learned that the humanity that brought me to tears was going to make me a better writer and a better reporter.

"I just looked it up: John King is scheduled to be executed next month."

JOHN PLETZ ('90)

Technology reporter, Crain's Chicago Business

"I pursued a single FOIA for over a year. It didn't involve lawyers, just persistence because bureaucrats didn't understand FOIA and kept dropping the ball. It was perhaps one of the simplest requests I've ever made, but I had to walk the respondent through every step.

"The final indignity was when they agreed to my request and finally responded with the documents, they sent the files to the wrong email address because of a typo. Had I not called back a couple of months later, I'd never have gotten the info."

KENNETH CHANG ('94)

Science reporter, The New York Times

"I traveled 8,000 miles to go a mile underground in South Africa — and that was for a story about what might be living on Mars.

"Mars itself remains an impractical reporting trip.

"Scientists at Princeton are studying microbes that live in rocks far below the surface, and a gold mine — South Africa has some of the deepest in the world — is a convenient place to go study that. Similar conditions exist on Mars, shielded from the cold and radiation, so if life ever arose there, it might still persist."

For Illini memories from 201 other media members — including ESPN's Michele Steele, Tom Penn, Jeff Legwold and Robyn Neal — go to uofi150.news-gazette.com.

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